Monday, 29 June 2020

Building resilience, development and equality into the post-COVID recovery

Written by Francesco La Camera

In April 2020, IRENA released its Global Renewables Outlook: Energy Transformation 2050. The report showed pathways for the transformation of the global energy system that are not only consistent with the Paris Agreement, but are also accompanied by immense socio-economic benefits.


But the report came out amid the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19, which inevitably called for close examination of its conclusions. The advantages of renewables to weather the rising economic storm were already apparent. A few months on, their resilience compared to the conventional energy industries based on fossil fuels has become even clearer.

In 2019, two-thirds of new capacity was renewable, leaving fossil fuels far behind.

Picture1This is in large part due to their cost competitiveness. Our latest cost analysis shows that the costs of solar photovoltaics have fallen a staggering 82% between 2010 and 2019. Concentrated solar power declined by 47%, onshore wind 40% and offshore wind 29%. This means that now, newly installed renewable power capacity often costs less than the cheapest fossil fuel power generation options.

IRENA estimates that, next year, up to 1200 gigawatts (GW) of existing coal capacity could cost more to operate than the cost of new utility-scale solar PV.  And in the first half of this dramatic year, amidst historic oil price volatility, renewables have proven to be the most resilient way to produce electricity.

These are unstoppable trends and powerful arguments for governments to consider as they devise their stimulus and recovery measures. Taking a long-term view to recovery can safeguard against imprudent short-term decisions that may divert resources today, with costly long-term consequences.

Picture2The Post-COVID Recovery: An Agenda for Resilience, Development and Equality is developed to make clear how and where investments and policy interventions in the energy transition can support the economic recovery while steering the way towards decarbonisation.  In 2019, USD 825 billion was invested in energy transition technologies. IRENA estimates that, in the recovery phase, this investment should more than double to nearly USD 2 trillion per year between 2021 and 2023. Such investment in a  combination of renewable projects, efficiency measures and flexible infrastructure would go a long way in accelerating the shift needed for decarbonization of the sector.

Picture3These levels of investment are achievable. Strategic government policies and investment choices can facilitate multiples of private investment and, importantly, rapid job creation. At a time when millions of jobs have been lost or are at risk, policy makers have an opportunity to make a swift and lasting difference by investing in the energy transition. The report finds that if the USD 2 trillion are invested annually, it would boost GDP by 1% and create additional 5.5 million transition-related jobs in three years.

Technologies with potential to deliver a net zero energy system, such as green hydrogen, now exist. By investing in their commercialisation, governments and businesses can seek the industrial opportunities that will provide value and sustained growth in the long-term.

The word ‘investment’ is meaningful – these are not simply costs but investments in our future and enablers of economic growth, social resilience and welfare.

Picture4The pandemic has forced a dramatic break with business as usual. It has exposed the vulnerabilities inherent in an economic system that puts relentless stress on the natural world and leaves many people behind. The situation also exposes structural connections between the current COVID-19 crisis and the less immediate, but no less urgent climate crisis. Piecemeal responses will not suffice in either case. The global agenda needs to be comprehensive, systemic, and transformative.


As host of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), the UK has an unparalleled opportunity to lead the way in ensuring that the links between responses to the pandemic and our ability to meet long-term climate and sustainable development commitments are understood. The 2020s must deliver as a decade of climate action. COP26 is the starting gun; governments have an immediate – and perhaps last chance - to change the course of the climate emergency and invest in a resilient future.

Francesco La Camera is the Director General of the International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA.