With the coronavirus epidemic affecting a large part of the world, many are starting to think of the day after and the need to get the economy back on track. The lockdown in most countries has affected businesses across-the-board, putting jobs at risk.
Activists, academics, and politicians are drawing attention to the need for the economic recovery to be a green one that can help the world to tackle climate change -- with some of the most recent claims coming from Germany and the UK.
Speaking in a virtual climate conference, Germany’s Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said economic recovery programs should invest in future-proof jobs that would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years, rather than aim for a return to business as usual.
"We mustn't invest in technologies of the past," Schulze told The Associated Press, claiming that some countries are holding onto plans to build new coal-fired power plants. "Unlike in the fight against the coronavirus, we already know the vaccines for the climate crisis."
Some German politicians have called for stimulus money to be spent on subsidizing car purchases, to boost the country’s auto industry. Schulze suggested that one way to do this would be to help healthcare workers buy electric vehicles for house calls. "It would help the economy and it would move us forward (in curbing emissions)," she said.
Britain’s Business Secretary Alok Sharma, who co-hosted the online summit, said that "the world must work together as it has to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, [in order] to support a green and resilient recovery, which leaves no one behind." The UK will host the COP26 climate summit next year.
Ahead of the summit, a group of 68 companies released a statement saying they, too, support linking pandemic recovery with the fight against climate change. The companies include AIDA Cruises, insurance giant Allianz, Deutsche Telekom, and sportswear firm Puma.
Nevertheless, environmental campaigners have warned that heavily polluting industries are already seeking to tap into the vast sums being lined up by governments to stimulate the economy.
"We are seeing the internal documents from industries indicating that they are trying to use this moment where public money is being put back into the economy to prop up their industries, whether it be the aviation industry… (or) the oil industry," said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International.
As well as in Europe, similar claims for a green stimulus can be found in the US. Greener choices – like public transport and EV charging infrastructure – can be more effective at generating jobs than their dirtier counterparts, studies have shown.
Over 1,000 academics, campaigners, and citizens have signed an open letter to the US Congress calling for a menu of green stimulus measures to be made "shovel ready" for when the disease is brought under control. They propose a recovery package of at least $2 trillion to create green jobs and transition away from fossil fuels.