COVID-19 stimulus should address health, economy and climate together

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

"The emergence and effects of this virus show just how fragile our way of life is. If we did not truly understand it before, we understand it now. Life on earth is a delicate balance, and it only takes one black-swan event to put everything in jeopardy," writes María Mendiluce. [Shutterstock]

Governments around the globe are quickly designing some of the biggest economic stimulus plan ever seen in peacetime in response to the COVD-19 pandemic. But while the health crisis has forced all concerned to take swift action, we are still moving too slowly when it comes to  the climate crisis, writes María Mendiluce.

Dr María Mendiluce is the Interim CEO of the We Mean Business Coalition, a global nonprofit organisation working with the world’s most influential businesses to take action on climate change.

COVID-19 has changed our lives in ways that we never imagined. In just a few short months, the impact of this devastating virus has shut schools, offices, stores and factories. Airlines are grounded. Borders are closed. Many of us are quarantined at home.

Around the world, we are grappling with a radical change to the way we live our lives. It’s a challenge that people and families are coming to grips with, as are businesses both big and small, health systems and governments.

This is a collective effort that calls on everyone to play their part – whether it’s individuals shopping for an elderly neighbour, companies enabling employees to work from home, businesses switching manufacturing capacity to producing hand sanitiser, or governments putting aside party differences to agree on massive assistance measures that will help combat the effects of this world-wide pandemic.

As all of us adapt to the urgency of the situation, two things are becoming clear.

The first is that all of us – families, businesses and governments – have the power to act radically and decisively when the moment calls for it. In the face of overwhelming evidence that this virus can have deadly consequences on a huge scale, we do not hesitate to suspend “normal life” because we understand that it is necessary. It is necessary because it will ensure that – for most of us, at least – there is a life we can come back to.

Companies around the world have stepped up. They are showing how they can act to protect people and the most vulnerable when the moment calls for it, without getting tangled in red tape or bogged down in internal company politics.

Equally, governments are quickly designing some of the biggest economic stimulus packages ever seen in peacetime. This is vital to ensure that the damage to economies, companies and people from coronavirus is minimised, while maximising the chance of a strong recovery.

The immediate focus is on ensuring people can afford shelter, food and medical treatment, and that medical supply chains and service providers can surge in capacity. It’s an essential effort to support communities, workers and businesses hardest hit by the virus itself. Companies, especially SMEs, need immediate access to capital to survive the turbulence, keep people in work and ensure vital goods and services remain available.

Commission proposes unprecedented suspension of EU’s fiscal rules 

The European Commission proposed for the first time on Friday (20 March) the activation of the general escape clause that would ‘pause’ the adjustments member states have to do to meet their fiscal targets and allow them to spend “as much as they need”.

The second message is a wake-up call for all of us. The emergence and effects of this virus show just how fragile our way of life is. If we did not truly understand it before, we understand it now. Life on earth is a delicate balance, and it only takes one black-swan event to put everything in jeopardy.

It also makes it clear that we have the will and the capacity to face down threats to our communities and way of life. The coronavirus has moved with a frightening speed and we have responded with the same speed. The climate crisis has the potential to be far more devastating for humanity, but is clearly visible on the horizon allowing us the chance to take decisive action.

With the coronavirus, we are taking the action that is necessary. When it comes to climate change, we are still moving too slowly, often too tangled in red tape and bogged down in internal company and country politics. We have not truly understood that the worldwide devastation from climate change will be much, much worse than what we are experiencing today.

As the immediate crisis response transitions to longer-term economic stimulus in the coming months, the focus will be on rebuilding the economy and setting a new course. It is our responsibility to use this moment of crisis and renewal to build greater resilience, and to finally tackle the biggest threat to our existence.

Governments must put climate action and resilience at the core of these longer-term economic stimulus packages. This will ensure that public spending helps address both the current economic crisis and the ongoing climate crisis. It will help to avoid the economic earthquakes that – in the face of overwhelming evidence – we already know are coming.

This is a moment where we can take a decisive turn on the road to a resilient, zero-carbon future. We must include everyone, and we must avoid automatically recommencing a way of life that threatens our planet, the health of our communities and our people.

Climate change will still be a threat after COVID-19 is gone

Governments around the world are demonstrating – all too evidently – that they are unable to tackle two major crises at once, writes Jonathan Gornall.

Long-term stimulus investment should be used to build a better future. A zero-carbon future in which communities and the economy are resilient to the impacts of climate change. One where investments contribute to reducing emissions, ensuring clean air and providing good jobs as well as safeguarding economic growth. This means aligning government spending with the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement – limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5ºC and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.

Stimulus spending decisions should be screened through the lens of climate and resilience to ensure new dollars are directed toward zero-carbon options, and the power of public investment and procurement is used to accelerate demand for climate solutions that deliver good jobs, helping to mitigate rising unemployment.

We have the solutions to build zero-carbon power and transport systems. We know how to put people to work building energy efficient, low-carbon buildings and infrastructure. Nature-based solutions are available now to rapidly reduce and sequester emissions. Many of the technologies needed to create zero-carbon industrial sectors already exist.

Governments should ensure their stimulus packages accelerate these solutions and the many benefits that come with them. As a report from the New Climate Economy shows, shifting to a low-carbon economy could create a $26 trillion growth opportunity and 65 million new jobs by 2030.

We must protect what is most important. We have a responsibility to protect our families from economic shocks we can already see coming. By providing long-term solutions that build in climate resilience we can help mitigate the future problems caused by climate change.

A clear signal from governments that they back the rapid transition to a resilient zero-carbon economy and support the raft of climate solutions that already exist will help the private sector invest confidently as it acts to rebuild and boost the economy.

We need to look forward with hope that in rebuilding from this devastating crisis we can ensure greater resilience and a clear pathway to the zero-carbon future.

Long-term government stimulus to combat the economic impacts of COVID-19 should:

  • Help address both the current economic crisis and the ongoing climate crisis.
  • Be used to build a zero-carbon future in which communities and the economy are resilient to the impacts of climate change.
  • Contribute to reducing emissions, ensuring clean air and providing good jobs as well as safeguarding economic growth.
  • Be aligned with the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement – limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5ºC and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
  • Be screened through the lens of climate and resilience to ensure new dollars are directed toward zero-carbon solutions.

Europe warned about virus impact on clean tech

Governments across Europe should keep clean energy top of mind as they consider measures to protect their economies against a likely recession caused by the coronavirus, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said.

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