Coronavirus and climate crisis, is there hope?

Source: Greennews.ie

When the Coronavirus pandemic paralysed transport, global pollution levels declined drastically, unveiling a blue sky even in Beijing. And in Venice, clear water replaced the city’s notoriously murky canals, it reaffirmed the radical notion that nature’s resurrection was possible. 

However,
the economic impact of nature’s renewal has been significant. The European
Commission, for example, has projected that Europe’s economy will decline by 7.4 per cent, this
year. Before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, it was predicted that the
economy of the 27-nation bloc would grow by 1.2 per cent, in 2020. 

To
put these figures in perspective, the EU economy shrank by 4.5 per cent in 2009
in the midst of a global financial collapse. Even China, a global economic
superpower, has been struggling. With half of the world focused on combatting
Covid-19, few buyers are interested in purchasing Chinese goods. The EU was – and
remains – China’s second-largest trader.

The
significance of these economic implications raises heated questions for
academic and political debate. Will the pandemic overshadow the climate
emergency? With millions of people unemployed struggling to secure a livelihood
in a post-pandemic world, will the climate still matter? Or can the current
crisis be used as an opportunity to move towards a greener economy?

Unprecedented Collapse

Dr Frank Crowley, UCC

Dr
Frank Crowley, of University College Cork’s School of Economics, told The Green News that “there is no previous economic crisis” that compares
to the one prompted by Covid-19. “The answer to economic renewal is easier said
than done, but it will all be about our ability to innovate.”

Being
creative, Dr Crowley said, means making the best of our scant resources in the
midst of restrictive measures imposed as a result of the health emergency – from
efficient use of technology to save jobs to finding alternative ways to do
business without jeopardising people’s health. 

Seasoned
economists and green-minded activists alike have expressed concerns about the
notion of diluting or postponing environmental regulations to assist polluting
industries in a post-pandemic world. This is a thorny issue as airline
executives, like Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary, have already expressed their lack
of appetite for new environmental levies. 

In the Dáil last week, Minister for Transport Shane Ross also
promised to assist in the survival of Irish airlines, albeit without making any
mention of environmental regulations — nor, indeed, did any TDs questioning the
outgoing Minister on this issue.

Hope in the Time of Corona

In
January, before the Coronavirus crisis casted a heavy shadow on Europe’s
economy, the European Commission promoted plans for moving toward a
carbon-neutral future by introducing “The Green Deal” as its flagship theme. But
while the economic impact of the crisis may complicate things, EU officials
remain hopeful.

Ursula
von der Leyen, the Commission President, for example, said last month that the
bloc’s green goals should remain intact, adding that she had the support of
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron to
safeguard the EU’s green objectives. 

The
EU is currently examining a law that would enforce carbon-neutrality by 2050,
and before the pandemic took hold some European leaders were in favour of
boosting the current targets for 2030, which would require increasing the
current 40 per cent reduction levels set in 1999 in the next decade to as much
as 50 per cent. 

The
question now is whether the Coronavirus crisis has changed the equation. Do EU
leaders still have the political will to examine green options for safeguarding
the economy? 

Dr
Crowley firmly believes that postponing environmental regulations for polluting
industries is unwise. “Hopefully, the Covid-19 pandemic is a short-term
shock, [whereas] climate change represents a short, medium and long-term
catastrophic negative shock,” he said.

As he sees it, both the Coronavirus crisis and the climate emergency
destabilise and upend our lives, so “if anything, the pandemic should be a
wake-up call and make us recognise how our well-being and the planet are
intertwined”.

The
European Environmental Bureau (EEB) has also published an array of guidelines
for European governments to “transform fear into hope” by relaunching the EU
economy in line with the ethos of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
(SDGs). 

“Stimulus
packages created to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 crisis must promote
climate neutrality, nature restoration, circular economy and zero pollution,” the
EEB said. “Interventions should be used to create new jobs in different sectors
such as “renewables and energy efficiency, the building sector through restoration programmes, through
agro-ecological farming and ecological fishing practices, sustainable
industrial production, zero-emissions infrastructure, and green chemistry.” 

Doughnut Economics

Cllr Lorna Bogue

Cork
city’s Green Party Councillor Lorna Bogue, an economist by training, is also
adamant that transitioning to a cleaner economy in a post-pandemic world is an
achievable goal, if the political will to achieve it remains robust. 

Speaking
to The Green News, she said that the Irish and other European governments must
take the route of applying the concept of “doughnut economics” for the
environment to survive the post-pandemic world. 

In
her notable book, Doughnut Economics:
Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist
, Kate Raworth argues that economic growth, in its
primitive form, is alien to the concept of human well-being, and notes that
economy should ideally meet everyone’s needs “within the means of the planet”. 

 We
need economies that “make us thrive, whether or not they grow,” she wrote. 

In
a similar vein, Councillor Bogue said that the concept of a doughnut economy
advocates the idea of promoting efficiency and planetary health by avoiding
extravagance — “providing people with the basic things that they need in order
to thrive and have a good life, and at the same time having more circular
economies that have less waste in them.” 

Ms Bogue’s backs a Green New Deal for Europe and for Ireland, which
would address inequality on a large scale – from gender, race to workforce
injustices – to combat climate change. She doesn’t believe that the Government
should “bail out” polluting industries. Instead, the State should recognise
workforce inequality, and curtail unnecessary costs that do little beyond
generating income for large-scale business owners. 

Questions regarding the “ownership” of polluting industries, or
workforce inequality in those sectors, are “what we’re not hearing about very
much right now.”

“If you look at the Irish agriculture industry, we have beef
farmers who are earning €8,000 a year, and they all have to work part-time in
order to sustain that, which if you know the amount of work that goes into it,
that’s not good for those workers,” she said.

“Then
we have large dairy processors and manufacturers who are earning massive wages
in comparison. These are the things we need to reassess [after the pandemic].”

Ms
Bogue is optimistic that if we cut unnecessary costs and considered sustainable
options while boosting workforce equality, we can rebuild both nature and the
economy in a world battered by the consequences of a health emergency.

However,
even as her own party makes an annual seven per cent emission cuts a condition
for forming a Government with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, she has little faith
in the dominant parties, noting that the outgoing Government was never strong
enough to resist pressure from polluting industries. “That’s why change in the
new Government is so essential.”

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