Looking ahead: after the pandemic, we can build economies that don’t cost the Earth. With recent polls showing mounting public support for a rethink of government priorities, almost everywhere, the remaining question about the vision for a greener economy may simply be: how soon can we get there? So, let's get on with it!
"We have to make sure that we take decisions that will take us to the future and not into the past.” announced Frans Timmermans, the European Commission vice president, as he unveiled the EU’s recovery package a couple of months ago.
“For many regions and companies, including those relying on coal production and carbon intensive industrial processes, this economic crisis has raised an existential question. ‘Do we rebuild what we had before? Or do we seize the opportunity to restructure and create different and new jobs that can serve us for decades to come?’ We rebuild but in a different direction.”
The EU pledged billions for a greener future, investing in renewable energy, home energy efficiency, and zero-emission transport. It even earmarked €40bn to help high-polluting businesses and their workers to adjust to a low-carbon future. "It's time to shift and balance the kind of stories we tell in news and aim to inspire and The package was far from perfect but clearly demonstrated the Commission's commitment to 'building back better' after the coronavirus crisis.
Brussels is far from alone in that message. As we shift from crisis management to recovery, powerful voices across the globe (such as ex-Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, in his article: The Economy Must Yield to Human Values) are saying that the only recovery worth having is one that prioritises people and planet. Even before the EU's pledge, cities like Amsterdam were getting on with re-ordering their priorities by adopting The Doughnut Model, which requires changing economic strategy from growth to thriving, and connecting bodily health to planetary health.
For as long as anyone on the planet has been alive, western governments have all pursued growth and the laws of supply and demand as their primary economic strategies. But now, things are changing.
Joining Amsterdam, the US cities of Philadelphia and Portland are set to unveil similar ‘city portraits’ to demonstrate how they can thrive.
According to Forum for the Future’s CEO Sally Uren, “the sheer scale and speed” of the UK government’s economic rescue during the pandemic bodes well for its support in creating a more resilient economy. She’s likewise encouraged by the insistence of the French government that it will only support Air France if the airline commits to ambitious climate targets. France is definitely turning greener, as evidenced by the Mayor of Paris being re-elected to office on her anti-pollution, pro-pedestrian agenda and her call for a bicycle lane on every street.
As a result, the green wave and the disappointing result for his own party, La République En Marche, have been a wake-up call for the French president. In response, Macron has promised €15bn over two years to fight climate change, and has accepted all but three of the 149 proposals published by the Citizens’ Commission for the Climate.
One of the concerns frequently trotted out against a greener economic agenda is cost. But claims that a green recovery will automatically cost more have been robustly dismissed by economists.
After the 2008 financial crisis, green investment paid dividends. Coronavirus presents an even greater opportunity. A green recovery can produce higher returns on public spending and create more jobs in both the short term and the long term, compared to the alternative of pouring stimulus cash into the fossil fuel economy.
Those findings come from a study of the potential for a green recovery, based on a survey of finance ministries and central bankers, and a comparison with the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, conducted by the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, former World Bank chief economist Lord Stern, and leading economists from Oxford University.
The general consensus filtering to the top of the agenda for most governments, businesses and economists is that, out of a catastrophe that has cost lives and livelihoods across the world, there is the perfect opportunity to shift to a system that is more resilient, fair, and meets the needs of both citizens and the environment. With recent polls showing mounting public support for a rethink of government priorities, the remaining question about the vision for a greener economy may simply be: how soon can we get there?
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