As a result of the pandemic’s confinement and containment policies, energy demand and resulting energy-related carbon emissions declined by an estimated 2.4 billion tonnes in 2020 – a record drop according to researchers at Future Earth’s Global Carbon Project. However, the reduction is likely to be short-lived if structural changes do not occur.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused foreseeable positive and negative disruptions to the global energy sector. This has revealed opportunities that can be learnt from to meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement pledges, with the positive disruptions showing us the possibility of a more sustainable and resilient future.
The ISC-IIASA Rethinking Energy Solutions Report recommends actions based on the opportunities and vulnerabilities in energy systems that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light.
“The pandemic is a threat but also an opportunity because it showed that the system we have spent a lot of money and resources on is not working the way it should, so the crisis should be used to put new budgets, take new actions and rebuild society”– Behnam Zakeri, Research Scholar, IIASA
The report highlights that solutions previously thought to be out of reach are far more possible than expected. One such positive outcome is the digitalization of physical activities, such as attending work, schools, conferences and other gatherings online. This has resulted in a short-term lifestyle changes — introducing and normalizing digital solutions for a mass audience — which the report recommends capitalizing on in a post-COVID society.
Some companies, like Spotify, a music streaming service, have announced that they will let their employees work remotely from anywhere after the pandemic. The report suggests that more companies and governments should do the same, as digitalization offers opportunities to use resources more efficiently, and so has the potential to make consumption more sustainable and to reduce carbon footprints.
Efforts to digitalize and reduce the population’s carbon footprint work hand-in-hand with the need to reinvent urban spaces to reach the SDGs and combat climate change.
Cities consume 60-80% of global energy and produce more than 70% of carbon emissions. What’s more, 70% of the world’s population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050.
The report proposes that cities should be redesigned into more sustainable ‘urban villages’ so that they are optimised for energy efficiency. One way to do this would be to redesign cities into compact neighbourhoods where all amenities (shops, offices, schools, etc.) are within walking distance. Paris, France, for example, promotes self-sufficient neighbourhoods, with all the essential amenities placed within a 15-minute radius. Several other cities like Melbourne, Australia, with its “20-minute neighbourhoods” and the Nordhavn “5-minute neighbourhood” in Copenhagen, Denmark, are promoting this new standard for the use of space and sustainable mobility.
Another key approach to reinventing urban spaces is prioritizing nature-based solutions by using parks, green roofs, green walls and blue infrastructure to combat climate change and connect the population back to nature. This also means centring public spaces around people, by converting street spaces from car use to sidewalks and bike lanes, and enhancing the quality and safety of walking and biking infrastructures.
The report also recommends that cities be rebuilt to incorporate renewable energy. The costs for renewable technologies are declining quite fast, but Zakeri explained that the problem with moving to renewable energy is not the cost but a lack of understanding. Consumers, experts and governments lack the knowledge to distribute, access and install these technologies. However, in recent times, scientists and other experts have brought more awareness to them and are helping the trend move forward.
The report states the importance of developing net zero-energy communities that have a holistic approach to energy-efficient building renovation and construction of new buildings. The net zero-energy design must consider the energy interactions between individual buildings and the broader energy system on a local level.
These recommended actions aren’t just about energy efficiency but about creating a more fulfilling life for all.
“Rebuilding cities to be more sustainable and resilient [to future crises] not only has the potential to reduce energy consumption but also create a more joyful lifestyle that improves the well-being and experience of people living in a city”– Behnam Zakeri, Research Scholar, IIASA
For more information on rebuilding urban spaces, and addressing energy lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic read the ISC-IIASA Rethinking Energy Solutions Report.
You can also watch the discussion on Rethinking Energy Solutions as part of the launch event for the Bouncing Forward Sustainably: Pathways to a post-COVID World, which explores the key themes of Sustainable Energy, Governance for Sustainability, Strengthening Science Systems and Resilient Food Systems.
New ISC policy brief: A call for a formal scientific voice in the global fight against plastic pollution
Final Evaluation Report: LIRA 2030 Africa
FAO and the International Science Council join forces to strengthen science-policy interfaces for agrifood systems
Podcast with Karen Lord: Science Fiction and the Future of Science: Long-Term Thinking in Policy-making
Policy Brief: Creating a Strong Interface between Science, Policy and Society to Tackle Global Plastic Pollution
Request for nominations: The social determinants of mental wellbeing in young people - deadline 17 November
Cultivating a proactive approach to crises: first meeting of the UNEP/ISC foresight expert panel
"The making of the Golden Record of our century": daring to pursue mission-oriented science
To achieve sustainable development, the world needs to mobilize around a big science approach once more
Proclamation of the International Decade of Sciences for Sustainable Development by the United Nations General Assembly
Global science needs a new approach to tackle climate change and complex sustainability question
Ambitious global $1 billion per year ‘mission science’ model needed to win on sustainable development in time, warn experts
Charting a New Course: Science Day to Pioneer Evidence-Based Strategies for SDG Acceleration at the HLPF 2023
A Model for Implementing Mission Science for Sustainability: proposed by the Technical Advisory Group to the Global Commission on Science Missions for Sustainability
Frontiers Planet Prize, second edition: celebrating the world’s most innovative sustainability scientists by 1 November
Protecting the ocean: 5 essential reads on invasive species, overfishing and other threats to sea life
Nurturing a Sustainable Future: Collaboration, Empowerment, Trust, and Resilience in Science at the ISC Mid-term Members Meeting
From Antarctica to Space: updates from Affiliated Bodies on Day 3 of ISC Mid-term meeting
Unprecedented and Unfinished, Second Edition
ISC's nomination track ensures transdisciplinary and global representation in UNEP's Scientific Advisory Group for GEO-7 Assessment
Launch of the LIRA 2030 Africa reports highlighting key achievements and lessons learned from advancing transdisciplinary science in Africa
LIRA 2030 Africa: Learning from Practising Transdisciplinary Research for Sustainable Development in African Cities
UN 2023 Water Conference carries new engagements towards realizing SDG6 and future avenues for a decade of action
IPCC report: the world must cut emissions and urgently adapt to the new climate realities
Delivering actionable and science-based water solutions: new ISC policy brief launched ahead of the 2023 UN Water Conference
ISC-BBC StoryWorks partnership ends on a high note, delivering some of the highest engagement for the BBC
Science policy advice in times of crisis
Call to engage in Voluntary National Reviews
Distinguished lecture series - From fire to space - Basic sciences lead and shape our paths toward sustainable development
In wake of ‘natural’ disasters, not reducing biodiversity loss is a big missed opportunity
International Science Council deplores the exclusion of women from university education in Afghanistan and urges the Afghan authorities to reverse their decision
The ISC and UNEP to cooperate on advancing the use of science in environmental policy and decision-making
Science in Times of Crisis Episode 2 - The Current Clash: Science and the National Interest.
There are 8 years left to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, but is it enough time?
Professor Carlos Lopes on why Africa needs to stick to renewables despite the temptation of gas
Stories of transformations to sustainability
Funding for resilience: Five key objectives to protect vulnerable groups through Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Investing
Cycling towards sustainable development
COVID-19 likely to worsen inequalities for at least five years without renewed global cooperation, warns International Science Council
About the COVID-19 Outcome Scenarios Project
Three things to know about how Intellectual Property can contribute to sustainability transitions
Managed retreat from areas threatened by floods can catalyse positive social transformations
The climate crisis is a health crisis
New Technical Advisory Group to support the Global Commission on Science Missions for Sustainability
Global Forum of Funders
World Water Day - March 22
Sheila Jasanoff named 2022 Holberg Laureate
From educators to inventors
Women Leading on Equitable and Inclusive Solutions to address the Climate Emergency: Webinar
Approaching education from a new direction
Holiday binge-watching: Science edition
Our most popular stories from 2021
The “clocks” COVID-19 set ticking
Empowering marginalized communities
The International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly for 2022
Salim Abdool Karim, renowned epidemiologist and the ISC's new Vice President for Outreach and Engagement, talks "Omicron" with the Lancet
World Philosophy Day: Addressing science scepticism requires a stronger understanding of the philosophy of science
Strengthening the resilience of our global food system while advancing its transformation
The global vectors of uncertainty that will influence the outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic: results of the regional experts' discussions
COVID-19’s ticking clock
Call to all ISC Members for national assessments on the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and potential future scenarios
Enhancing Policy-making During an Emergency
Reconciling radical and feasible responses to societal emergencies: learning from COVID-19
We're in the midst of a global wake-up call
A response to The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response’s new report on the international health response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
COVID-19 has sparked new relationships between academia and policymakers – we must maintain them
Transformation within reach
Restructuring the food system after COVID-19
Working scientist podcast: Democratizing knowledge and access to tools for sustainable development
Rethinking Energy Solutions
Resilient Food Systems
Strengthening Science Systems
Enhancing Governance for Sustainability
Bouncing Forward Sustainably
Call for Action: Managing the Infodemic
Working together: Future Earth and WCRP announce partnership to jointly address major societal challenges
The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission launches the Global Ocean Science Report 2020
The “How” of transformation
Kyoto Landslide Commitment launched to increase understanding on how to reduce landslide risk
Statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
What are your latest findings and strategies to address the COVID-19 crisis, including for vaccine deployment?
Global Young Academy promote sustainable solutions to problems within global health and higher education
Transformation to Sustainability: Integrating Indigenous and Western knowledge systems for water management and governance
Fighting COVID-19 in the Brazilian Amazon has exposed multiple threats and vulnerabilities – but also hope
Lessons from existing disaster risk and recovery research should inform equitable and sustainable pathways out of the pandemic
What’s the point of virus taxonomy?
The World Pandemic Research Network - Addressing the societal and human impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
From COVID-19 crisis comes opportunity to rethink risk - by Heide Hackmann, ISC CEO and Mami Mizutori, Secretary-General UNDRR
Innovative technologies and post-Coronavirus economic recovery: A global value chains perspective
Biodiversity as insurance: aligning economic stimulus packages with long-term nature conservation goals. A Corona Sustainability Compass blog by Jasper Meya
Why intellectual property needs urgent attention from policy makers during the COVID-19 pandemic
Saths Cooper: We Are All In This Together
Covid-19 and Access to Scientific Knowledge
Bridging the gap in science communication
The Pandemic and the Global Economy
COVID-19 Stimulus Measures Must Save Lives, Protect Livelihoods, and Safeguard Nature to Reduce the Risk of Future Pandemics
Addressing the equity, freedom and sustainability deficits to maintain social progress despite COVID-19
Use the economic stimulus package to build resilient, climate-friendly economic structures
Risks and opportunities in responding to the coronavirus crisis - by Prof. Dr. Dirk Messner
A Data Ecosystem to Defeat COVID-19
SDG interactions as a national policy driver
COVID-19 and global dimensions of inequality
Tackling Climate Change with COVID-19 Urgency - by ISC Patron, Mary Robinson and ISC President, Daya Reddy
Four major international data organizations join forces to optimize the research data ecosystem, launching a COVID-19 appeal as their first joint action
Building resilience against biological hazards and pandemics: COVID-19 and its implications for the Sendai Framework
Join the first ‘Transformation Talks’ webinar to explore how research communication can be transformative
Koi Tū, the virus and the future
Understanding the different characteristics of African cities will be crucial in responding effectively to COVID-19 on the continent
The triumphs and trials of transdisciplinary research: reflections on the un-disciplining of disciplines
How to bring clean energy to informal settlements: Co-designing sustainable energy solutions in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa
Future of Science: Voices from our partners
Future of science: Voices from our partners
Future of science: Voices from our partners
SDG Interactions, gender, science-policy interface: ICSU at the High Level Political Forum
First UN Oceans conference highlights urgency to address marine pollution, warming and over-fishing
New report from scientific experts provides a unique guide to translate Sustainable Development Goals into reality
ICSU at the U.N. Ocean Conference
Sustainable Development Goals
Call for pre-proposals: Advancing the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 11 on cities in Africa
GSDR report launches in France – High level event and workshop co-organized by ICSU, UNDESA, IDDRI and IRD
Global Sustainable Development Goals need clearer, more measurable targets, according to new report from science experts
Nature publishes paper on SDGs by team of authors from ICSU, IGBP and other organisations
Final four Rio+20 policy briefs released
Science Plan on Sustainable Energy – ICSU Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean
ISPRE Report on Photovoltaic and Wind Energy
ISPRE Report on Biomass
ICSU and Sustainable Development (2006)