United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday urged G20 nations, including India, to invest in a clean and sustainable transition as they bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic, PTI reported. The UN chief voiced his concern about the continued use of fossil fuels by nations around the world.

“I have asked all G20 countries, including India, to invest in a clean, green transition as they recover from the Covid-19 pandemic,” Guterres said while virtually addressing the 19th Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture by The Energy and Resources Institute. “This means ending fossil fuel subsidies, placing a price on carbon pollution and committing to no new coal after 2020.”

The UN chief also pointed out that clean energy and closing the energy access gap “are tickets to growth and prosperity.” However, he added, subsidies for fossil fuel in India were still around seven times more than that for clean energy.

On coal, Guterres said 50% of it will be uncompetitive in 2022 and would touch 85% by 2025. “This is why the world’s largest investors are increasingly abandoning coal,” he said. “They see the writing on the wall. It spells stranded assets and makes no commercial sense. The coal business is going up in smoke.”

He also expressed concern over nations opening up coal auctions, which, according to him, will lead to further economic decline and increased healthcare costs.

In June, India had launched the auction process of 41 coal block for commercial mining with Prime Minister Narendra Modi claiming that the country was about to take a “big step” in meeting its energy demands and boosting economic development. The move was aimed at making India the largest exporter of coal, he had said.

Guterres further praised various countries, including the United Kingdom, South Korea and Germany, for transitioning into the use of green energy. He noted that these countries were investing in energy storage solutions, such as green hydrogen.

He said that people living in areas with high levels of air pollution are more likely to die from the coronavirus. “If fossil fuel emissions were eliminated, overall life expectancy could rise by more than 20 months, avoiding 5.5 million deaths per year worldwide,” he said. “Investing in fossil fuels means more deaths and illness and rising healthcare costs. It is, simply put, a human disaster and bad economics.”

He cited the decline in the cost of renewable energy to urge nations to utilise clean energy as the expense in setting up a new renewable energy capacity was lower than continue working with 39% of the world’s existing coal capacity, he claimed.