The coronavirus pandemic is first and foremost a human tragedy. Some of us will have been touched in our personal lives. CIWEM members are also active in addressing this public health crisis, through ensuring continuity of essential services such as water supply and waste management, as well as bespoke initiatives to enhance and reconfigure health facilities.
With the recovery phase (or at least the lull between waves) on the horizon, it is time to think of the implications for the environmental sector. There are some similarities between Covid-19 and the other global crisis of our time: the climate and ecological emergency. Both crises exhibit exponential growth rates if left unchecked; demand resiliency in our infrastructure and systems; and require societal transformation, as we progress to the next normal.
In addition to having similar attributes, these crises also overlap in terms of our response. The broader societal and economic recovery from Covid-19 will require a massive financial stimulus and I believe that the Green Deal needs to be at the heart of this stimulus. Achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is the essential element of the various Green Deals being formulated and adopted around the world. Decarbonisation on such a scale requires very significant upfront investment, whether it’s transforming our energy system through the wholesale rollout of renewable generation, or reimaging our transport system through scaling up public transport and electrification.
The Green Deals need significant investment in infrastructure now, if we are to achieve net zero by 2050 and the interim targets such as the European target of a 50% emissions reduction by 2030. The Covid-19 recovery will need to include measures to jump-start our economies after the enforced mothballing. With a mix of public and private finance, currently available at very low interest rates, we can align economic recovery with climate action. It will be an opportunity to examine what lessons can be learnt from the early adopters, such as the UK, which established a Green Deal by the 2011 Energy Act. We should also take the opportunity to challenge the level of ambition at a national level, to push for our governments to outline the specific measures they will implement to cut emissions by 7.6% every year for the next decade, which the UN Environment Programme advises will be required, in order to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.
There will be competing voices and forces, seeking to influence where investment should be targeted during the post Covid-19 recovery. We should not shy away from outlining the economic benefits that will accrue from directing investment towards a Green Deal. I encourage all environmental professionals to actively engage in this public discourse, which fits very well with CIWEM’s commitment to create climate and ecological champions of our members.
By David McHugh
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