The economic stimulus packages and recovery plans that the governments are now putting in place have the potential to create a recovery that is both green and inclusive, opined the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
According to the policy brief, the OECD said that a recovery that was both green and all inclusive can create opportunities for income, jobs and growth, and also accelerate action on medium and long-term environmental goals, both national and global.
“Such action will significantly enhance the resilience of economies and societies in the face of accelerating environmental challenges due to strengthening feedback loops and the increasing likelihood of cascading tipping points. Importantly, putting people at the centre of green recovery plans can lay the foundations for sustainable well-being,” the policy brief announced on September 14 said.
Environmental consequences of COVID-19
Many of the consequences are likely to be temporary, while some may endure in the form of longer term structural or behavioural changes. Global carbon dioxide emissions are expected to decline by eight per cent in 2020, to levels of ten years ago. But this decline will not have any long term impact as the atmospheric concentration of CO2 continues to climb rapidly
Air pollution declined temporarily as industrial activity, ground transport and air travel were heavily curtailed for several months. But with many of the services coming back, this is only going to be a temporary impact. The water quality also improved in many water ways but this is also temporary as the eater ways are becoming busy with transportation and other activities.
The OECD also states that Waste management has become a major challenge as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. The governments are finding it hard to manage the increasing medical waste and single-use plastics. They are finding it difficult to recycle the plastic waste because of a shortage of recycling capacity and collapse of the market price for recycled plastics.
It said that the Coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis have underscored the importance of environmental health and resilience as a critical complement to public health.
The OECD said that addressing global issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, air and water pollution, ocean degradation and inefficient resource use has become even more important as countries seek to rebuild their economies and enhance resilience against future shocks
Noting that several governments have included “green” recovery measures in their policy packages to address short and medium term socio economic impacts, the OECD said that there are still others who have not targeted at green sectors or activities. As positive measures, the Policy brief said that some countries are scaling up efforts and funding to re allocate car space to more sustainable modes (walking, cycling, micro-mobility, public transport) and to other urban functions. Some countries have also stipulated environmental conditionality for recovery support offered to firms in key sectors, for example in aviation,
Meanwhile, plans to roll back existing environmental regulations(including on water quality, single-use plastics and air pollution), reductions /waivers of environmentally related taxes, fees and charges, unconditional bailouts of emissions intensive industries or companies (airlines or fossil-fuel extractive industries) and increased subsidies to fossil fuel intensive infrastructure would adversely impact the environment.
The OECD also maintained in its policy that the balance between green and non-green spending was so far not favourable in terms of the volume of support towards positive environmental outcomes.
Opportunities of the green recovery
The OECD said that present crisis presented governments with challenges in ensuring that the recovery and stimulus measures enhance, and do not adversely affect, environmental sustainability and well-being. It said that the recovery was an opportunity to “build back better” through combining restoring growth and creating jobs with the achievement of environmental goals and objectives.
Noting that all the government’s would be looking forward for a quick economic recovery, the OECD said that it should be ensured that emergency response measures do not relax environmental standards and regulation, and ultimately exacerbate existing environmental challenges, requires a whole of government approach to assessing the impact of recovery and stimulus measures.
It also said that green recovery was an opportunity to undertake wider reaching and fundamental restructuring of critical sectors and activities in order to support the transition to low-emission climate-resilient and resource-efficient economies in socially inclusive ways and to enhance the resilience of their economies.
Accelerating existing plans
A large number of governments are using the post-COVID measures to accelerate actions that were already envisaged under existing environmental plans and proposals. To capitalise on this effect, it will be important that plans are accompanied by clear strategic and regulatory frameworks pertaining to the long-term transition to a low-carbon economy, beyond the specific recovery programmes announced.
Implementing fossil-fuel subsidy reform and carbon pricing
A period of relatively low oil prices offers an ideal opportunity to continue efforts to scale up the introduction or extension of carbon pricing. Lowering taxes on labour and capital, in favour of taxing environmentally harmful consumption and production, can stimulate job creation and investment, improving economic efficiency. It is crucial that energy tax reforms are designed to avoid increasing the share of “energy poor” and rising inequalities, as adequate access to energy services is essential for ensuring decent standards of living.
Sustainable and resilient agriculture
The green recovery provides an opportunity to improve long-term productivity, sustainability, and resilience of global food systems by removing price-inflating and trade-distorting measures that discourage production changes, encourage an overuse of natural resources, potentially increase GHG emissions and slow climate change adaptation. Public funds can be redirected towards investments in innovation, in sustainable use of land, water and biodiversity resources, in climate change mitigation and adaptation, and farm household resilience.
The creation and diffusion of new products, processes and methods is fundamental to creating new businesses and jobs, increase productivity and drive progress towards the green recovery. There are major opportunities for green innovations, which include, among others, technologies for renewable energy, energy storage, heating and cooling in buildings, electric, hybrid and fuel-efficient vehicles, and carbon capture, storage and use technologies
Greater resources have so far been allocated towards less sustainable drivers of economic recovery, such as facilitation of fossil-fuel investments. A green and jobs-rich recovery needs additional financial resources.
The financial system should correctly value and incorporate climate and biodiversity-related risk. Financial markets also need to be transparent and efficient in order to ensure market integrity and investor confidence, which in turn contributes to market resilience, the Policy brief said. It said that leveraging private investment for infrastructure is a critical pillar of the low-carbon transition
Global co-operation in the green recovery
The OECD noted that COVID-19 has triggered a global health and economic crisis that calls for greater international co-operation across a number of areas, from the development of vaccines and treatments, to strengthening the robustness and resilience of supply chains, to the co-ordination of fiscal and monetary policies and support to developing countries. It said that the meeting global environmental challenges required multilateral co-operation as most pressing environmental problems are largely transnational in nature.