The start of a new decade has been troubling to say the least. Coronavirus has managed to create more damage to the global economy in less time than the Great Depression and financial crisis of 2008. Yet despite the grim readings of battered stock markets, job losses and projections for further decline in GDP, Covid-19 will eventually pass and businesses that are now in hibernation will once again be able to trade. Cafes will open, bars will be full, the travel industry will boom, and the rush hour traffic that once irritated us will irritate us again. This may seem to some as life returning to normal, but was life ever really normal in the first instance?
The inconvenient truth of the coronavirus is that it has exposed the ugly reality about the issues we as a society currently face, but are ultimately ignoring. The unprecedented economic measures that governments have taken to help deal with Covid-19 makes you wonder about another global emergency that needs the same response – climate change.
The climate emergency was one of the biggest issues of 2019 thanks to Greta Thunberg’s school strikes and the grassroot activists across the globe, striking in solidarity for the future of our planet. Similar to Covid-19, climate change does not respect boarders, and the issues regarding the climate emergency simply will not go away. The worrying part is by the time the Climate Change Conference (COP 26) is rescheduled for later in the year, will there be the appetite for us to tackle this issue with all of the political might? Our economic response to Covid-19 must put climate change at the top of the agenda from all governments and multilateral institutions involved in economic and environmental policy change.
So far, the response to Covid-19 has been phenomenal. In Europe, the EU Finance Minister has agreed to a common emergency plan to ease the impact of Covid-19 on the European economy. The 19-member states who share the single currency- the Eurogroup, reached a deal on a rescue plan which is worth more than €500 billion. Similar measures have been introduced across the globe, with the United States unanimously passing the nations largest-ever rescue package of $2 trillion as a lifeline to suffering American’s. The response from a community perspective has also shown that our solidarity in times of crises connects us more than ever. People across the world have united as one in harmony by showing their support for those on the front-line battling the virus.
We need a similar response if we are serious about mitigating the impacts of air pollution, CO₂ emissions and the health of our global economy. We need to carry this positive momentum into the challenges that have taken a backseat for the present time. Issues that are going unnoticed should alarm us just as much as all pandemics, past and present. According to the WHO, around 7 million people die each year due to fine particles in polluted air that leads to diseases such as lung cancer, respiratory infections, and heart diseases to name a few.
If we are to mitigate these numbers, we need a Covid-19 rescue package that puts the environment at the top of any economic recover plan. Governments across the world and local authorities are already working on these packages. While this may seem to be good news for the global economy, we need to ensure that these long-term packages are carefully designed to be less dependent on fossil fuel across the broader scale.
This message has been a major concern for environmental activists and was echoed by Faith Birol, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency who said “These stimulus packages offer an excellent opportunity to ensure that the essential task of building a secure and sustainable energy future doesn’t get lost amid the flurry of immediate priorities.”
Given that the airline industry is a significant factor in CO₂ and the climate emergency debate, any financial assistance they receive should include special requirements that these organisations take immediate action to limit their emissions. Nation-states now have the biggest role ever in shaping the global economy for the future. If we get it wrong, the consequences will be far more severe than what we currently face now.
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Mason, A. (2020) The Inconvenient Truth of Covid-19, IDRN, 01 May. Available at: https://idrn.eu/environment-and-climate-change/the-inconvenient-truth-of-covid-19 [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].