The world was virtually at a standstill over the last couple months as countries imposed lockdown measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Non-essential businesses, establishments, and transportation were put on halt and people were told to stay at home. With the pandemic restrictions, the environment was also given a reprieve – our cities were noticeably clearer, skies were bluer and the air was fresher. The world is also set to witness the largest-ever drop in CO2 emissions in recent history. This is definitely good news amid the devastating effects of the pandemic.
Countries are now easing self-imposed COVID-19 restrictions to revive the economy which took a huge blow given self-isolation and lockdown measures. Many businesses closed down under the weight of this pandemic. Big companies across various industries and sectors, such as LatAm Airlines Group SA, The Hertz Corporation, and J.C. Penney filed for bankruptcy. According to the International Labour Organization, almost 50% of the global workforce from both the formal and informal sectors were adversely affected by the pandemic. This puts pressure on governments in different parts of the world to take action; buw how can the economy be revived? And more importantly, how do we integrate the environmental agenda into economic goals to address not just this pandemic but also the climate change crisis?
COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to realise that we can make a positive impact on the environment through our collective action. But we also have to reopen businesses to kickstart the flailing economy. Can we achieve a balance between our environmental and economic goals? Capitalism has shaped how we treat nature. This highlights the need to restart our economies using a green and resilient model.
Governments have to ensure environmental protection along with the pursuit of their economic goals. This is even more relevant now that we’re facing the challenge of climate change. Experts have predicted that we are nearing the tipping point where there will be irreversible damages to our planet if we do not change our ways. They advocate for a worldwide low-carbon way of living to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.
During the lockdown, there was a reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels (petrol for vehicles, fuel for planes, electricity for cooling the office building) as people were ordered to stay at home, leading to short-term positive environmental effects.
To sustain these positive benefits long-term requires a rethink in economic management; because anything we do, or decide not to do, has a corresponding impact on global emissions and climate change.
According to Bournemouth University’s sustainability manager Neil Smith, crises such as COVID-19 pandemic and climate change are a time for restructuring systems and lifestyles. Governments must use a green and resilient approach to economic recovery. It is a paradigm that aims to meet the needs of the people, especially the poor and economically vulnerable, while also keeping in mind the planetary limitations so that future generations can still meet their needs.
The good news is that it can be done.
Harnessing green opportunities to restart economies
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, China had been making strides in using technological innovations and engineering solutions to keep up with the demands of their growing population while taking the green route. They have built giant wind farms to harness wind power and serve as a source of energy for more than a hundred million homes. They are improving and developing more solar parks as an alternative source of energy. In terms of transportation, China is expanding its network of electric buses with zero-emission to eliminate the use of fossil fuels.
Hong Kong has recently adopted a green employment scheme that will allow them to give 500 people temporary jobs in the fields of recycling, waste reduction, and electric vehicle popularisation. Although this is a short-term arrangement, it is one step toward sustainable programs that create jobs for citizens whilst transitioning to a greener economy.
In Amsterdam, Mayor Marieke van Doorninck announced that the city would use the doughnut model for its economic recovery program. This model emphasizes the need to balance economic and environmental activities which is best represented by a doughnut. The inner ring of the doughnut denotes the minimum standards needed to maintain a good quality of life while the outer ring is the ecological limit to human activities. As an example, Amsterdam will ask builders to use recycled and eco-friendly construction materials when building houses to resolve their housing crisis.
The government can provide economic incentives to companies which adopt green and sustainable initiatives and regulate those who continue to harm the environment (similar to what is being practiced in Canada). These are just some examples of programs under a green and resilient economy.
Research led by Cameron Hepburn of Oxford University has shown that a green economy is good for us because it is cost-effective in the long run, provides higher returns, and will allow for the creation of jobs. So, it’s a win-win situation for the economy and the environment. Hepburn’s team recommended cross-disciplinary discussions among various sectors to strategize on how to build a green and resilient economy.
The coronavirus pandemic has given us the opportunity to rethink and restructure old ways of doing things so that we can bounce back better. The bottom line is that we should chart a new economic course toward climate action. We shouldn’t forget the importance of taking care of our environment even as we restart our economies. We have technology and innovations that allow us to cater to the needs of the people and develop ingenious ways to solve the challenges that we face. We should do our part in protecting our planet, before it’s too late.
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Cover image from the 2015 GPU Technology Conference opening day keynote from NVIDIA CEO and co-founder Jen-Hsun Huang and Tesla co-founder Elon Musk. Photo credit: NVIDIA Corporation.