Only 18% of Announced Recovery Spending can be Considered ‘Green’: Report

An analysis of spending by leading economies has found that only 18 percent of announced recovery spending can be considered ‘green.’

One year from the onset of the pandemic, recovery spending has fallen short of nations’ commitments to build back more sustainably. An analysis of spending by leading economies, led by Oxford’s Economic Recovery Project and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), finds that only 18 percent of announced recovery spending can be considered ‘green.’ 

The report, ‘Are We Building Back Better? Evidence from 2020 and Pathways for Inclusive Green Recovery Spending’, calls for governments to invest more sustainably and tackle inequalities as they stimulate growth in the wake of the devastation wrought by the pandemic. The most comprehensive analysis of COVID-19-related fiscal rescue and recovery efforts by 50 leading economies so far, the report reveals that only USD 368 billion of USD 14.6 trillion COVID-induced spending (rescue and recovery) in 2020 was green.

Brian O’Callaghan, lead researcher at the Oxford University Economic Recovery Project and the report’s author said that “despite positive steps towards a sustainable COVID-19 recovery from a few leading nations, the world has so far fallen short of matching aspirations to build back better. But opportunities to spend wisely on recovery are not yet over. Governments can use this moment to secure long-term economic, social, and environmental prosperity.”

The report emphasises that green recovery can bring stronger economic growth, while helping to meet global environmental targets and addressing structural inequality. To keep decades of progress against poverty from unwinding, low-income countries will require substantial concessional finance from international partners.

It raises five key questions for the road to sustainable recovery:

  • What is at stake as countries commit unprecedented resources to recovery?
  • What spending pathways could enhance economic recovery and environmental sustainability?
  • What is the role of recovery spending in addressing inequalities exacerbated by COVID-19?
  • What kind of recovery investments countries are currently making to tackle climate change, nature loss, and pollution?
  • What more needs to be done to ensure a sustainable and equitable recovery?

On the whole, so far global green spending “has been incommensurate with the scale of ongoing environmental crises,” according to the report, including climate change, nature loss, and pollution, missing significant social and long-term economic benefits.

Key findings of the analysis in terms of recovery spending:

  • USD 341 billion or 18 percent of spending was green, mostly accounted for by a small group of high-income countries. Global recovery spending has so far missed the opportunity for green investment.
  • USD 66.1 billion was invested in low carbon energy, largely thanks to Spanish and German subsidies for renewable energy projects and hydrogen and infrastructure investments.
  • USD 86.1 billion announced for green transport through electric vehicle transfers and subsidies, investments in public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure.
  • USD 35.2 billion was announced for green building upgrades to increase energy efficiency, mostly through retrofits, notably in France and the UK.
  • USD 56.3 billion was announced for natural capital or nature based Solutions ­(NbS)– ecosystem regeneration initiatives and reforestation. Two-fifths was directed towards public parks and counter pollution measures, notably in the US and China, improving quality of life and addressing environmental concerns.
  • USD 28.9 billion was announced in green R&D. Green R&D includes renewable energy technologies, technologies for decarbonising sectors such as aviation, plastics, and agriculture, and carbon sequestration. Without progress in green R&D, meeting the Paris Agreement targets would require far-reaching pricing and lifestyle changes.

Professor of Environmental Economics at Oxford, Cameron Hepburn said “this report is a wake-up call. The data from the Global Recovery Observatory show that we are not building back better, at least not yet. We know a green recovery would be a win for the economy as well as the climate – now we need to get on with it.”

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Ayush Verma

Ayush is a staff writer at saurenergy.com and writes on renewable energy with a special focus on solar and wind. Prior to this, as an engineering graduate trying to find his niche in the energy journalism segment, he worked as a correspondent for iamrenew.com.

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