2020 was marked by an unprecedented pandemic with more than half of the world shutting down to cope with the growing threat of the coronavirus. During this time, economies suffered from lockdowns which forced people to be confined in their homes, potentially unemployed.
But despite the societal cost, the first lockdowns highlighted an astonishing discovery. Due to major industries and factories being shut for long periods of time, pollution and emissions had also reached a new low.
For the first time in decades, the Himalayas were visible from all over northern India. Traffic pollution in London decreased by more than 40 percent compared to 2019. And even China, one of the world’s largest fossil fuel consumers, saw a 25 percent drop in carbon dioxide emissions.
But with nations now slowly fighting the virus, and cities rapidly re-opening, these emissions are bound to increase again. The UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, amongst other global government officials announced that the UK would now be planning their ‘green recovery’.
Who Can Afford a Green Recovery?
Many governments describe their economic stimulus policies as a green recovery: a plan to recover prosperity through environmental and fiscal reforms after the covid-19 pandemic. In other worlds, the UK is preparing for a Green Industrial Revolution.
Mr. Johnson talks of investing £12 billion into a green utopia where we cook our breakfast using hydrogen power and drive our electric cars to work. Everywhere is filled with clean, crisp air and freshly forested fields. He talks of British regions prospering under an abundance of green technology and jobs.
But this green recovery won’t be achieved by everyone in the world. Many studies are showing that recovery plans are made up of mostly domestic policies, much like those in the UK, which will not help poorer countries to recover their economies after COVID-19.
Without this support, developing nations facing multiple challenges as well as the COVID-19 pandemic will be desperate to build their economies. And the easiest way for them to do this would be to invest in cheap coal.
Plus, all the efforts made by the Global North will go to waste if poorer countries rapidly use fossil fuels. And the Paris Agreement would become destabilized, pushing the world even deeper on its continued journey of increased global heating.
Going Green Won’t Be Easy
The problem here is pretty simple. While the most of the Global North and richer countries are solely dealing with the pandemic, poorer countries and those residing in the Global South are managing a plethora of natural disasters and climate related events.
In 2020, South Asia faced the worst monsoon season of the decade with 17.5 million people affected by flooding in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. Many were forced to leave their homes and settle in overcrowded living spaces. In Pakistan, farmlands and crops have been destroyed and people are being pushed further into poverty. These conditions caused by climate change make it impossible to observe safe measures such as social distancing which makes the population more vulnerable to the virus.
In the first month of 2021 alone, Indonesia faced 185 recorded natural disasters which claimed more than 100 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. The events range from flooding and landslides to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Such natural catastrophes are predicted to become worse and less manageable as the world’s climate continues to change.
Hospitals are already under great pressure due to the virus but the added casualties from these natural disasters are really running resources thin. So while richer nations have the budget and funding to allocate to green investments, poorer nations are busy spending that money on hospitals and cleaning up cities following climate events.
Countries like Angola and Belize have told the media that they are struggling to prioritize which sectors receive slivers of their modest budgets. Of course, these countries chose to protect funds for food and water as well as health and education over climate action.
So being wedged between mounting debt, the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing natural disasters will only stifle these communities further. And wouldn’t it be unfair that they have to choose between surviving and mitigating a problem that they had less involvement in? The IMF and World Bank have stated that these countries must receive greater financial assistance and debt relief so that they can build resilient economies.
We Can’t Fight Climate Change Alone
Finance has always been a key element to tackle both COVID-19 and climate change. Finance in this context has meant focusing recovery on greener and climate friendly initiatives after the world has successfully dealt with the virus.
But these conversations continue to ignore the fact that the impacts of climate change are already being experienced by the poorest members of our society. Poorer economies who are dealing with new natural disasters every day simply don’t have enough money to put into ‘building back better’ because they need to focus on building everything they’re losing first.
But there are several ways that loss can be mobilized, and financing can be provided to those who need it most. To support developing countries, richer nations need to begin cancelling debt repayments so that these nations can use those funds to focus on mitigating the economic and health impacts of the pandemic.
Global governments should remove subsidies on fossil fuels while investing more in renewable energy. In doing so, they can create green jobs so that employment can see a smooth transition from the industry.
Establishing a loss and damage fund within the UN will force developed countries to pay fines if they miss their emission targets. And financing could be increased over time if these countries continue to miss their mitigation targets under the Paris Agreement.
If developed countries like Germany and the UK are really serious about mitigating climate change and building green economies, then they need to understand that they cannot successfully do this if the rest of the world is forced to use fossil fuels in a desperate measure to survive. Developed countries must recognize and take responsibility in the fact that climate change has and will continue to cause inescapable damage.