As global economies reel from the outbreak and spread of COVID-19, an increasing number of environmental campaigners are calling on governments to ensure that future bailouts will place heavy emphasis on sustainability.
While businesses such as aviation and tourism will evidently require rescue packages to stay afloat, leaders should move away from the temptation to revert back to fossil fuel dependence and wipe out the climate gains made during the coronavirus crisis. As Mary Robinson, a former Irish president and UN high commissioner for human rights, says, the drastic measures taken to fight COVID-19 have shown us that the changes required for a low carbon future are achievable and realistic.
Rather than pumping trillions of dollars into dirty industries to stave off economic collapse, governments should instead look to what environmentalists call a “just transition”, that would allow the workforce to move away from fossil fuel dependent jobs into skilled jobs with low carbon prospects. Similarly, emphasis should be placed on demanding that companies comply with stringent commitments on CO2 reductions in exchange for bailout money.
However, European airlines crippled by the crisis have already been demanding relief from environmental taxes – a move away from climate emissions goals rather than towards them. Such rhetoric has further raised concern among environmentalists that we may miss an opportunity to reduce our reliance on fossils by going back to the status quo once the economy recovers.
Airlines in particular contribute significantly to pollution and “any financial assistance should include requirements that these companies take action to reduce their emissions,” as Annie Petsonk of the US-based Environmental Defense Fund told the Guardian. She insists that all companies that require public money should to be subject to carbon commitments, rather than creating future costs for taxpayers in terms of dealing with the climate impact later down the line. As Andrew Murphy of Transport & Environment puts it, “airlines calling for public support in bad times should accept they need to start paying taxes in good times,” he said.
Following the 2008 financial crisis, billions were spent bailing out big business and stimulating the economy, while climate action faded into the background. Governments used asset buyback programs to create liquidity to buy bonds from fossil dependent enterprises. While we witnessed an initial drop in greenhouse gas emissions, they quickly bounced back in 2010, once economic activity rebounded.
Today, multiple governments around the world, including the UK, France, US and Australia, have already pledged hefty stimulus packages to support workers, businesses and healthcare systems. Our leaders can take advantage of the opportunity offered to them from our current healthcare crisis to make long term commitments to greener policies.
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