It has been around a year since the WHO declared the Covid-19 pandemic as a public health emergency of international concern. However, the world is still fighting against this virus. The coronavirus has disturbed the financial, economic, political, social and cultural infrastructure of the world. And importantly, the pandemic has reminded us that we are at the mercy of the ecosystem. The challenge of sustainability needs to be addressed as soon as possible to ensure a healthier and safer future.
The IMF predicts that there will be a global economic growth rate of 5.5% in 2021 as activities start to normalise, implying that the global economy will bounce back once the outbreak is controlled and contained. Whether we will return to normal after the Covid-19 pandemic is not an issue — the main issue is the type of normal that we are heading into. The most significant challenge that the world faces right now is to make sure that the recovery from the crisis is an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable one. We all must aim to reconstruct a new world order where sustainability is a priority. The pandemic must be considered as an opportunity not to revert to the ‘old normal’, but to revive into a new environmentally friendly global system in the near future. Achieving a sustainable recovery won’t be easy. It will require resetting, rethinking, and redesigning the economy from one that merely reacts on a crisis-to-crisis basis to an economy that is inclusive, prosperous, low on carbon emissions, and mitigates the risk of future crises.
To start with, we need to keep in mind the UN Sustainable Development Goals for our common future as we reset during these current times. The readiness to transform and develop, which the pandemic has awakened, should help us on the way to a greener future. Studies have shown that 70% of the citizens in the G-20 nations favour a green recovery in the post-pandemic world. Global leaders must seize this opportunity to redesign an inclusive economy, revitalise industries, preserve biodiversity and deal with climate change. As highlighted in a report by the World Economic Forum, this change can be achieved by enhancing emission trading, boosting renewable energy resources, improving energy efficiency and productivity, and reforming energy taxation. A green recovery must be more than merely cutting down emissions. It must be about making structural modernisation and systemic advancements across economies, societies, and industries.
As the need to fast-track systemic changes towards a sustainable world intensifies, the European Green Deal could be an excellent opportunity to kickstart this ambition. The European Green Deal is a set of policy initiatives set up by the European Commission, with an overarching objective of making Europe climate neutral by 2050. It aims to reconcile short term economic necessities with long term sustainability goals. As stated by Frans Timmerman, the executive vice president for the European Green Deal: “The European Green Deal must become the cornerstone of Europe’s pandemic recovery.”
In order to ensure that the recovery from the pandemic is fair, inclusive and sustainable for all member states of the EU, the European Commission proposed a plan by the name of The Next Generation EU. The plan is centred on the European Green Deal as the EU's primary recovery mechanism. All the money raised through this programme will be directed towards a) the establishment of a more circular economy that brings local jobs, b) setting up a number of renewable energy projects and starting a clean hydrogen academy in Europe, c) installing one million charging points for electric vehicles all across Europe to ensure a more sanitary transport system, and d) strengthening the Just Transition Fund to facilitate businesses in creating new economic opportunities. I believe that all these support measures are stepping stones for a greener, more inclusive, and resilient Europe.
However, the deal may not be as faultless as it seems to be in the first place. Even though the governments are regarding the European Green Deal as a historic move, the evidence has shown that this deal is only a tiny improvement on the emission cuts the EU is already expected to achieve. Environmental activists from NGOs like Greenpeace believe that the deal is a classic example of governments giving precedence to political convenience over climate science. Most politicians are still afraid to take on multinational corporations and the wealthiest section of society who are contributing a lot to pollution. Without further action on the part of supervising institutions, the EU’s new climate target won’t be sufficient to beat the climate emergency, leaving those who are the most vulnerable and least responsible to pay for the damage. If that is the case, then the recovery from this pandemic would not be sustainable at all.
As the world today can be regarded as a single and global tightly bound ecological system, it is increasingly evident that no single entity (be it a business organisation, government etc.) can handle this reset process alone. Individuals and societies; public and private sectors; and local governments and global regulatory bodies must all come together to deepen partnerships and minimise the risks. Regional and international cooperation remains vital for managing emissions, reducing environmental destruction and meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The EU’s approach of linking its Green Deal with the Covid-19 recovery plans allows governments to merge the economic reboot with sustainability objectives, and I believe it is the ideal way to come out of this crisis, provided that it is executed without any underlying profit-maximising motive. Green recovery is the bridge that connects the world to a climate-resilient future. When well-thought-through, governments’ investments in green technology and infrastructure can be incredibly beneficial for the economy and humanity in the long run. As nicely pointed out by Victor Galaz, a researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre: “The Corona crisis is a 100-metre race, and the climate crisis is a marathon”. The world has to “run both at the same time” to achieve the desired results.
Written by Atharv Joshi. Edited by Aada Orava and Robert Fletcher.
The views and opinions presented in this article belong to Atharv Joshi — not TEDxWarwick.
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