By Bridget Stuart
It is a fact that we need to limit the increase in global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as soon as possible, but certainly before 2050. When I say ‘we’, I mean the governments of the world, and in particular the governments of wealthy countries in the Global North, who have particular responsibility for both causing the problem, and therefore for solving it. Unfortunately, it is already too late to prevent dangerous climate change, and it is unlikely the 1.5 degrees target will be achieved. Therefore, the more pertinent question asked by the climate scientist Kevin Anderson is how long we have between dangerous climate change and extremely dangerous climate change .
COVID-19 has created a mean 7% decline in CO2 emissions, as well as a decline in other toxic air pollutants from the transport and industrial sectors . Unfortunately, it appears that this decline will only be temporary, and that emissions will rebound as the economy does. For example, China’s emissions have already rebounded past their 2019 levels . However, this need not be the case if countries work to ‘build back better’ and create a just transition to a low-carbon, green economy.
This is where the ‘green recovery’ comes in. In their recovery packages responding to the pandemic-induced economic crisis, many governments have included ‘green recovery’ measures. Such measures include investments, grants and loans for projects directed at improving green transport, clean energy, the circular economy, and research & development. Other initiatives focus on creating green jobs, and the conservation of ecosystems. The OECD estimates the overall funds directed towards 'green recovery' programmes currently total USD312 billion, with the focus being predominantly directed towards the energy and transport sectors. For example, Boris Johnson has promised a £12billion government investment, with a potential private sector of three times that amount, projected to create 250,000 green jobs .
However, the announced green recovery packages remain insufficient. It has been estimated that an investment of USD6.3 trillion will be needed annually until 2030, a figure far beyond what has currently been promised . This, coupled with widespread lack of ambition in implementation and the active rolling back of existing environmental regulations to bolster the failing fossil-fuel industry in some countries, the outlook is far from promising. Therefore, it is important that countries’ progress is monitored to ensure accountability and that they actually implement the pledges they have made.
It is important that countries who are able to do so set strong examples and show a concerted effort to tackle climate change. The USA re-joining the Paris Agreement under the Biden administration and its renewed presence at COP26 next year could be a real symbol of change. If the USA invest enough money in R&D innovation projects, this could herald a new suite of green technology advances.
To leverage real sustained green change in the long-term, we need to invest in a workable Green New Deal (GND) within G20 economies. As individuals, we must be sure to use our electoral power to vote in the governments and policies which have a sincere focus on a GND. Fortunately, Biden’s election in the US does shine out as a beacon of hope in this respect.
It is also important to highlight that the green recovery will look very different depending on the country. For countries in the Global South, the focus will be primarily on alleviating poverty and suffering through sustainable methods. However, international economic assistance may be necessary for green initiatives to be feasible. In light of the inequality of historical emissions’ and colonial legacies, international acts of climate justice must be woven into the cloth of the green recovery. For example, Biden’s proposed ‘Green Marshall Plan’ or the UK’s £64 million package to support Colombia to combat deforestation and build back a cleaner economy in the wake of the pandemic, could be good places to start.
Overall, we need to speed-up a rapid, yet just transition to a low-emissions, green economy. COVID-19 has been and continues to be a great threat to humankind and has required unprecedented collective action to fight it. Miraculously, through a period of extreme suffering, it seems as if the world may have overcome it. However, climate change represents a threat on an incomparable order of magnitude. It is here, and we can no longer discount or ignore it. In this immediate post-COVID era, there is a unique opportunity not just for a recovery but for a transformation towards a green, inclusive and socially just future.
OCS Media Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.