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Covid-19, A Call for Green Recovery

Covid-19, A Call for Green Recovery

The pandemic is a delicate reminder of the intimate relationship between people and planet. Any efforts to make our world safer are doomed to fail unless they address the critical interface between people and pathogens, and the existential threat of climate change, that is making our earth less habitable

– WHO Director, General Dr. Tedros Adhanom

Economists, ministers, analysts and policy makers across the world opine that governments must treat Covid-19 as a springboard to propel a green economy. There is also a general consensus among masses about the same. Opinion polls from around the world reveal that people value environmental protection and want to preserve the positives that have emerged from the coronavirus crisis.

For instance, in UK several firms and investors put forward an appeal to the government to formulate a recovery plan that prioritizes the environment. The proposals put forward by business leaders include key demands like: investing in low carbon innovation, infrastructure and industries, support for sectors that can best support the environment, increase job creation and foster recovery while decarbonizing the environment and financially supporting firms that are aligned with climate goals.

Why Green Recovery?

When the pandemic struck, one common phenomenon observed across countries was that most economies were unprepared and under resourced to formulate an adequate response to the pandemic. Once the infection started to spread, a lack of universal health coverage, even in the rich countries translated into billions of people lacking access to reliable and affordable resources. Additionally, massive inequalities also meant that deaths have been driven by socioeconomic statuses that were compounded by gender and minority status. Thus the pandemic brought to fore several weaknesses of economic and healthcare systems.

The crisis can be looked at as a clarion call for building policies that not only seek to maximize GDP but also prioritize health and well being of the people of the nation. It also calls the attention of governments towards other crises facing nations like climate change and environmental destruction, which need to be looked at with the same seriousness as Covid-19.

While formulating Covid-19 recovery plans, governments around the world will be considering financial reforms which provide an opportunity for policymakers to incorporate environmental goals into new policies. Green projects are known to create more jobs, deliver greater short-term returns per dollar and increased long-term cost savings, when compared with traditional fiscal stimulus. According to a study conducted by renowned economists Joseph Stiglitz and Nicholas Stern, ‘green policies’ have a greater return on investment, can be enacted quickly and have positive impacts on the climate (e.g. investment in wind/solar energy). Renowned Indian economist Abhijit Banerjee also opined “A pandemic is akin to a war. Countries can recover surprisingly fast with the right policies.” He further pressed on the need for quantitative easing and direct benefit transfers.              

How can this be achieved?

How can countries leverage on the crisis to plan for a better future? The World Health Organization has outlined a few ways in which countries can tread the path of green recovery. Their prescription for a green recovery includes the following measures

Protect and Preserve the source of human health – Nature

As economies are made up of individuals, it is imperative that they maintain good health, which to a great extent is reliant on a healthy natural environment- clean air, water, food. Destructive practices like deforestation, polluting agricultural practices, unsafe management of wildlife etc. are known to increase the risk of emerging infectious diseases in in humans, over 60% of which originate from animals. Thus Covid-19 recovery plans need to focus on policies that reduce impact on the environment so as to reduce risk at source.

Invest in essential services, from water and sanitation

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of welfare systems around the world.  Billions of people still lack access to basic services required for maintaining good health. For instance, hand-washing facilities are still lacking in 40% of households. Further, WHO estimates that avoidable environmental and occupational risks cause about one quarter of deaths in the world. Therefore investment in healthier environments is imperative for health protection, environmental regulation and ensuring that health systems are climate resilient.

Additionally these policies also offer good returns on investment. For example, every dollar that was invested in strengthening the US Clean Air Act paid back 30 dollars in benefit to US citizens, through improved air quality and better health.

Ensure a quick healthy energy transition

At present, over 7 million people are estimated to die from exposure to air pollution i.e. 1 in 8 of all deaths. Over 90% people are exposed to outdoor air with pollution levels exceeding WHO air quality guideline value.

This highlights the need for investing in clean energy infrastructure. Several countries that were hardest hit by Covid-19 and those that recovered the fastest like South Korea and New Zealand have put green development alongside health at the heart of their Covid-19 recovery plans. A global transition towards clean energy would not just aid the achievement of Paris Climate Agreement goals but would also help in improving air quality to an extent that the gains would help repay the costs of investment.

Promote healthy and sustainable food systems

Lack of healthy diet and access to food is a major cause of weak immune systems among individuals leading to ill health and increased risk of contracting infections. There is a need for a rapid transition to healthy, nutritious and sustainable diets. If the WHO guidelines were met, this could have saved millions of lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and disease risks.

Build healthy livable cities

Half of the world’s population living in cities is responsible for over 60% of both economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions. As cities have higher population density, it is necessary to adopt measures that reduce emissions like using public transport instead of private vehicles.

Cities like Paris and London have reacted to the Covid-19 crisis by pedestrianizing streets and expanding cycling lanes in order to maintain physical distances and enhance quality of life post pandemic.

  • Stop using taxpayer’s money to fund pollution

The damage caused from Covid-19 crisis will certainly place huge pressure on Government Finances. This will usher in financial reforms and thus provide a good opportunity for investment in clean energy transition.

A case in point is that globally, around US$ 400 billion of taxpayer’s money is spent every year to subsidize fossil fuels that are contributing to climate change and air pollution. Including the damage to health and environment caused by these fossil fuels, the real value of subsidy rises to over US$ 5 trillion per year, which is more than what governments around the world spend on healthcare.

Therefore, it is necessary to place a price on polluting fuels in line with damage that they cause. This would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce deaths due to pollution and raise about 4% of GDP in revenue.

Green Recovery a Necessity, not Choice

Neglecting key agendas like environmental protection, emergency preparedness, health systems and social safety nets in order to save money has created a “false economy” wherein the bill to recover from crises is several times more than what investing in precautionary measures would cost. The pandemic is a stark reminder of how grave the cost of this neglect has been. Implementing an ambitious ‘green’ recovery package and directing capital into ‘green’ packages that align with business interests in now a matter of necessity, not choice.

About The Author

Srishti Tiku

Srishti is a graduate in Behavioral Economic Science from University of Warwick, UK, and is passionate about using her knowledge to decipher sustainability challenges through research and analysis. As Economics attempts to explain the processes that shape lives and livelihoods, Srishti finds it fascinating to learn about emerging patterns while wading her way through issues engulfing people, planet and profit. When she is not at desk, she loves to read and watch movies.

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Feature: COVID-19

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