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A wind-energy project stands near Vulcan, Alta., on Oct. 14, 2019.Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press

Governments should use their pandemic economic recovery plans to usher in a new era of declining greenhouse gas emissions, the International Energy Agency says, in turn creating millions of jobs around the world.

That proposal is at the heart of the agency’s new global sustainable recovery plan, written with the International Monetary Fund and released Thursday. The report examines key areas of the energy sector where investments – both public and private – and policies could be used to avoid the kind of sharp rebound in carbon emissions that accompanied the economic recovery from the 2008-09 global financial crisis.

Governments are currently making “hugely consequential decisions” in short order as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, IEA executive director Fatih Birol says in the report. By integrating energy policies into those responses, Dr. Birol believes the plan would accelerate the deployment of modern, reliable and clean energy technologies and infrastructure, and put emissions into structural decline.

“Governments have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reboot their economies and bring a wave of new employment opportunities while accelerating the shift to a more resilient and cleaner energy future,” he said in a statement.

But the report isn’t intended to tell governments what they must do, Dr. Birol stressed. Rather, it’s a guide to what they can do.

The agency urges policy makers to consider 30 specific policies in the electricity, transport, industry, buildings, fuels and emerging low-carbon technology sectors to make global energy more resilient and prepare countries better for future crises.

Take electricity, for example. The IEA argues that investments to enhance electricity grids, upgrade hydropower facilities, extend the lifetimes of nuclear power plants and increase energy efficiency would improve electricity security by lowering the risk of outages, boosting flexibility and helping to integrate more renewables into the power picture.

In oil and gas, the report says investments to reduce methane emissions – such as the Canadian government’s $750-million fund targeting just that – could mitigate some job losses in the energy sector while reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a cost-effective way. It also argues the current period of low oil and gas prices “provides fertile ground” to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.

Job creation and preservation is coupled with sustainable energy goals to guide the plan.

The oil and gas sector employed more than 13 million people in 2019, about five million of them in oil field services. The IEA estimates more than 1.2 million jobs will be lost in upstream operations as a result of the pandemic.

On the technology front, the IEA says innovations in hydrogen, batteries, small modular nuclear reactors and carbon capture, utilization and storage “could bring enormous long-term sustainability and resilience benefits,” while creating three to eight new jobs per million dollars invested.

“Sustaining and creating employment is a major priority for policy makers and is fundamental for economic recovery,” the agency writes.

The IEA believes adopting the measures in the report would boost global economic growth by an average of 1.1 per cent per year, save or create about nine million jobs annually, and reduce annual global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions by 4.5 billion tonnes by the end of the plan. Doing so would cost about US$1-trillion annually for the next three years, or about about 0.7 per cent of today’s global annual GDP.

“This report lays out the data and analysis showing that a cleaner, fairer and more secure energy future is within our reach,” Dr. Birol said.

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