A glimpse into post-covid-19 plans of governments – how likely is green recovery?
As the Covid-19 crisis has swept across the world, the big question is whether it alarms us to work harder towards sustainable future, or put those aspirations aside and make us just survive the crisis and try to stay afloat after it.
My colleague Topi started M-Brain’s Industry Insights series in our blog section last month with a dive into the Southeast Asian nations’ development projects in the field of technology. The result was an insightful review on robotics. My personal interest is in the green transformation of industries and societies. So, my dive into our Industry Insights database was focused on finding evidence or signals towards one direction or the other. Before that, let us take a quick tour of the unexpected, albeit temporary, impact of the crisis on the nature.
Nature is temporarily kicking back
We all have heard about dolphins in the canals of Venice and rare views into far-distance mountains in China. Some news has been overly optimistic, and photos manipulated, but it is not all fake news. There’s solid evidence that the lockdown has cleared the air. While this will be temporary and even higher emissions have been recorded after economic recoveries in the past, the quick change is quite astonishing. For instance:
- The World Meteorological Organization estimates that the pandemic could drive the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions down 6% this year, marking the largest yearly decline since World War Two, reports the Straits Times. The drive down in carbon emissions was due to lack of emissions from industrial energy production and transportation.
- In the USA, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects fossil fuel emissions to decrease by 7.5% this year due to the COVID-19 crisis. This would be the largest decline since at least 1990, reports Houston Chronicle.
- In Denmark, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency estimates that NOx emissions have been cut by around 40% in large cities during the coronavirus outbreak, reports Jyllands-Posten. The decrease is mainly due to a decrease in road traffic.
- In India, major metropolitan hubs like Delhi and Mumbai have seen air pollution fall by 40-50% year-on-year because of the lockdown, according to data from the European Space Agency (ESA). However, higher NO2 concentrations remain in areas with operational coal-based power plants, as well as in the shipping routes as maritime traffic volumes have not changed much. The development is reported by the Economic Times.
- As another angle, a research from Hubbub reveals that food waste has shown reduction in the UK amid the lockdown, reports the Guardian. The study suggests UK consumers are throwing less food away and making food go further.
What are the governments saying about sustainability goals in their post-virus recovery plans?
European Green Deal at the forefront of sustainable recovery
In Europe, the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has promised to put the European Green Deal at the center of the EU’s recovery plan, echoing similar statements made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Also, most environment ministers in the EU want the Green Deal to be put at the heart of the strategy for the bloc’s post-coronavirus recovery. In late April, only Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Romania remained outside the calls, reports NewsNow. For instance in Czech Republic, Prime Minister Andrej Babis has urged the EU to focus more on the coronavirus outbreak instead of emphasizing its Green Deal plan targeting carbon neutrality by 2050, according to Prague Daily Monitor.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen: “As we now plan to slowly go back to work and to invest billions of euros to restart our economy, we should avoid falling back in old, polluting habits. Instead, we should bounce back better from this pandemic.” (European Commission)
It is worth noting that the European Commission also revealed its ambitious circular economy plan accidentally amid coronavirus outbreak. As the plan has a crucial role in attaining the Green Deal objective, the Commission keeps being committed to its goals even though the urgent measures to dealing with COVID-19 may have some impact on the detailed schedule.
One environmental advocacy group about the Circular Economy plan: “It is the most ambitious and comprehensive proposal ever put forward to reduce the environmental and climate impact of the things we use and wear.” (BBC)
Many countries in Europe are already outlining their own plans for a green recovery
The High Council for the Climate, independent body created by Emmanuel Macron, has published a special report on Covid-19, underlining the importance of placing the ecological transition and greenhouse gas reduction at the center of the recovery, reports Le Point. The council warns, for instance, against the reconstruction of industries, like air travel, that are massive polluters in favor of more environmentally friendly initiatives, like rail and energy renovations. As another example, the council recommends that all aid provided to the automotive sector be designated to the move towards electric and hydrogen vehicles. In response, the government has affirmed it is in favor of requiring companies that receive aid to include the fight against climate change into their strategy.
The government’s initiative “Fossil Free Sweden” will be extended by four years until the end of 2024, writes Dagens Nyheter. Minister of the Climate Isabella Lövin says green investments are crucial for the recovery plan in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. This is in line with the ambitions of the EU’s Commissioner of the Climate Frans Timmermans, who has declared that he wants a green conversion of the economy.
Minister of the Environment and Climate Krista Mikkonen (Greens) has set up a working group to draw up proposals for post-corona crisis recovery measures, which at the same time respond to the climate crisis and to decline in biodiversity. Besides preparing measures for strategic-level plan and temporary stimulus, the group is exploring longer-term actions to accelerate the transition to a carbon-neutral circular economy and outline actions at EU level.
The working group is suggesting the support to be directed towards building charging infrastructure for electric and gas cars and improving the energy efficiency of buildings, writes Maaseudun Tulevaisuus. To go on, Minister of Economic Affairs Mika Lintilä (center) proposes the state support for the phasing out coal to be brought forward, writes Hämeen Sanomat. The Government has already decided to expand wind power production by offering more state lands for construction. Also tax breaks for offshore wind power are under consideration, according to Yle.
A green stimulus package is also expected, once the acute phase of COVID-19 is over, reports Bloomberg.
In the UK
The government recovery plan is yet to come, but it has been urged to pursue green recovery after the crisis by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), writes BBC News. The committee recommends earmarking funds for economic recovery to companies that will reduce carbon emissions, as well as setting or increasing carbon prices to sectors emitting high levels of greenhouse gases.
Furthermore, a report from Oxford University urges the government to support ‘green’ projects over conventional stimulus spending, writes the Guardian. Many green projects are also “shovel-ready” that could be started quickly. Projects such as building of electric vehicle charging networks, redesigning roads for more cycling, flood protection and planting trees could also create new jobs. Furthermore, bailouts are suggested to have conditions requiring the companies to reduce their climate impact.
Many countries are still amid an acute crisis, and recovery strategies and support packages are only starting to get shape. The coming weeks and months will show how many countries will join the green recovery movement, and what will be the timetable for the implementation.
Please note that the plans and initiatives described above were all from Europe for a reason. Not because this region was chosen for this blog post, but because the plans that had a green element tied to them all originated in Europe. Indeed, Europe has not backed down from its commitment to sustainable development, even in the midst of a crisis. Being one of the largest economies in the world, the region has the ability to lead other countries to follow the path it has signalled.
While tackling the coronavirus and the urgent health crisis are the top priorities now, the decisions that governments make with their massive stimulus packages have a quick, yet far-reaching effect. As Professor Cameron Hepburn from Oxford University puts it in the Guardian, “tackling climate change has the answer to our economic problems”.