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Goal 13: Climate Action

how covid-19 could lead to a greener economy

Why we're being encouraged to 'build back better'

By hannah rochell
18 june 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to put our lives on pause. Most of us aren’t working as we usually do, we’re not travelling (to neighbouring towns, let alone hopping on planes to other countries), and food has become too precious a commodity to be wasted. For many of us, our priorities are starting to shift; drops in road traffic mean that we can hear birds singing and breathe cleaner air, while working from home means we’re spending more time with family. And it turns out, we like it. Not only that, in a recent worldwide poll, 71% of people said that they considered climate change to be as serious as coronavirus.So it’s perhaps unsurprising that this period in history has also offered time to reflect on the future of the health of our planet, including by those in charge. 

In Europe, it’s even been given a tagline: Build Back Better. “With this restart, a window of hope and opportunity opens,” says Patricia Espinosa, the UN’s Climate Change Executive Secretary. “An opportunity for nations to green their recovery packages and shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, safe and more resilient”. Some European Governments are already getting on board with eco-friendly ways of emerging from the pandemic, and the UK’s climate advisers have urged that the economy should be restarted with low-carbon employment as a priority.

So what could be done to recover into a green economy, and what is happening already? We’ve rounded up some of the most promising opportunities.

Green airlines

Austria is using the Airline Luftansa’s plea for a bailout package as an opportunity to make the aviation industry more sustainable. The Austrian government is including conditions linked to climate targets in its upcoming bailout of the airline, with the specifics reportedly involving reducing short haul-flights and pledges to lower emissions. 

Bikes instead of cars

Italy has been one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, but this hasn’t stopped it from focussing on a green recovery. The Mayor of Milan, which is located in the now infamous region of Lombardy, is planning an environmentally conscious scheme to reduce car use and give back 35km of Milan’s streets to cyclists and pedestrians. Post-corona restrictions, of course. Meanwhile, Paris is introducing 650km of ‘corona-cycleways’.

Working from home

For those of us able to work from home, our day-to-day office life has changed immeasurably. According to the British motoring group the AA, 5% of its members say they will be working from home more in the future, which jars with the Governments £28 billion road building programme, which assumes that traffic will rise by 1% per (the AA’s president, Edmund King, thinks the money would be better spent on broadband). This, coupled with an understandable resistance to using overcrowded public transport, means it’s likely more of us will continue to work remotely. And for those of us that do need to travel to work, perhaps it can be made easier and safer to cycle or walk (see CARS).

Low-carbon energy

The UK’s climate advisors are calling for retraining programmes to ensure that more people are skilled in installing low-carbon heating, energy and water efficiency, and domestic flood defences. After all, if more of us are working from home, we need them to behave as efficiently as possible. And although COVID-19 is delaying work, even the fossil-fuel loving US is still set to have a record year for wind energy construction in 2020, which has to be good news.

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