We Should Not Aim to Return to Normal

Credit: Marcin Jozwiak on Unsplash

By Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana and Inger Andersen
BANGKOK, Thailand, Jun 18 2020 (IPS)

The world before COVID-19 looks very attractive right now. In
light of the disease, mass unemployment and social distancing, a
return to pre-pandemic normality seems appealing. Yet we should
remember what normal was.

Normal was obtaining 85 per cent of our energy
fossil fuels
and losing 7 million people a year to air
pollution. Normal was careening toward a global temperature rise of
over 3.5 C by the end of the century, with island nations facing
obliteration. Normal was 1 in 8 species threatened with extinction,
continued squeezing of wild spaces into smaller and smaller
corners, and the rampant illegal trade in wildlife. Normal
contributed to causing this pandemic

We should also remember that COVID-19’s effects on health,
jobs and economies are simply an acute version of what climate
change is predicted to bring – and in places already has. Unless
we aspire to a better normal with recovery, we are treating the
symptom, not the disease. We must build back better than
before.

Many governments are preparing stimulus and relief packages to
support COVID-19 recovery. Trillions of dollars will be ushered
into the economy across Asia and the Pacific. These stimulus
measures should help us achieve a better normal – a greener, more
equitable normal. How? A
recent survey
of 230 economists in 53 countries suggests that
green, climate-friendly stimulus measures are the best options for
an economic rebound, offering the highest economic multipliers in
the short- and long-terms.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

Even before the pandemic, the UN determined that
climate action could trigger $26 trillion in economic benefits by
2030, create more than 65 million new jobs and avoid 700,000
premature deaths from air pollution. Governments have no shortage
of options when it comes to directing a green, equitable stimulus
package. They can offer support to the construction industry to
develop energy efficient and zero-energy buildings. This is a high
employment sector, and investments can be quickly implemented.

It may be tempting to scale up funds for infrastructure like
roads, but that funding can go to improved and greener public
transport systems to service more people. More public transit
capacity will reduce the load on roads and reduce air pollution and
emissions. The lockdown has shown it’s possible to lean more
heavily on IT to decentralize business operations, reducing time
lost and carbon produced in commutes and travel. Governments should
now consider incentives to companies that invest in IT solutions
for their operations.

Many industries will be looking for bailouts to bounce back.
There is no time like the present for governments to include terms
that will require companies to work toward climate neutrality.
Airlines supported by governments should be asked to make stronger
commitments and take bolder action to reduce emissions, which will
be needed anyway for the industry to guarantee long-term
sustainability and employment for the millions who rely on it. The
example is being set by those governments who have made their
support dependent on energy efficiency targets and shifting short
haul flights to rail.

Bailouts to the auto industry can be directed to investments in
e-vehicle and battery production, and efficiency technology. Where
bailouts should not happen is in the fossil fuel sector. Developing
Asian countries account for
nearly one-third of global fossil fuel subsidies
.

The COVID-19 recovery period is the right time to end these
subsidies, and ensure there are no new investments in coal. The
savings to governments can support investments in areas like public
health and renewable energy. This is one answer to the question of
where stimulus money will come from.

Inger Andersen

Across Asia and the Pacific, governments have scarce financial
resources to apply toward recovery measures at the scale needed.
This underlines that existing resources must be deployed to
policies with the highest economic multipliers. It also implies
that finding additional revenue will be a priority.

Putting a price on carbon emissions and reforming subsidies for
agriculture and fossil fuels can be especially effective with oil
prices at record lows, when the social impact of removing subsidies
will be lessened. Measures like
feebates
– – which impose a fee on high-carbon vehicles and
give a rebate to low-carbon cars – to incentivize greener
transport and energy efficiency improvements provide more options
for increasing revenue.


Green bonds
can also finance energy efficiency and renewable
energy projects. Outside China, Japan and the Republic of Korea,
green bonds are scarce in the region. Now is the time to capitalize
on a proven idea to support a sustainable and resilient recovery
from COVID-19.

COVID-19 is a message from nature. So is the ongoing
climate crisis. Normal isn’t working. We need to build back
better.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is United Nations
Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic
and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

Inger Andersen is United Nations
Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN
Environment Programme

The post We Should
Not Aim to Return to Normal
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
We Should Not Aim to Return to Normal