As countries pass COVID-19 stimulus packages, too little is being spent on climate action, according to a new paper published Wednesday by the United Nations and Oxford University.
The report says that only 18% of economic recovery spending by 50 leading economies can be considered “green.” Roughly $66 billion has been invested in low-carbon energy technologies; $86.1 billion has gone to green transportation; $35.2 billion has been pledged to improving the energy efficiency of buildings; $56.3 billion will go toward nature-based solutions; and research and development initiatives have received $28.9 billion.
“This report is a wake-up call,” Cameron Hepburn, professor of environmental economics at Oxford, said in a press release. “The data from [Oxford’s] Global Recovery Observatory shows that we are not building back better, at least not yet. We know a green recovery would be a win for the economy as well as the climate — now we need to get on with it.”
The UN has called on countries to view the COVID-19 recovery period as an opportunity to transform economies and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By investing in climate action and the environment, countries can improve the living conditions of those living in poverty.
“Humanity is facing a pandemic, an economic crisis, and an ecological breakdown — we cannot afford to lose on any front,” said Inger Anderson, the United Nations Environment Programme's executive director, in a statement.
“Governments have a unique chance to put their countries on sustainable trajectories that prioritize economic opportunity, poverty reduction, and planetary health at once,” Anderson added. “The Observatory gives them the tools to navigate to more sustainable and inclusive recoveries.”
The COVID-19 pandemic in part emerged because of humans’ destruction of the natural world. Unless measures are taken to protect the environment, similar outbreaks will be possible in the future.
The disruptions caused by the pandemic provide a window into what countries can expect if climate change intensifies. Scientists warn that water and food shortages, as well as displacement by extreme weather could become the norm in the years to come.
That’s why Global Citizen launched the Recovery Plan for the Worldcampaign, which calls on world leaders to promote social equity, climate resilience, and human rights.
This week’s report describes the benefits of green economic recovery plans, with sections dedicated to energy, transportation, buildings, nature-based solutions, and research and development.
It notes that countries have missed the opportunity to retrain workers who lost their jobs in recent months for work in a green economy in the future. They argue that countries can transition unemployed workers into sectors that can repair the global environment, while fighting climate change.
For example, workers can be hired to plant trees and restore ecosystems that have been degraded.
When it comes to green energy, the report argues that countries can subsidize solar and wind energy rather than fossil fuels, while also improving smart grid infrastructure.
“Despite positive steps towards a sustainable COVID-19 recovery from a few leading nations, the world has so far fallen short of matching aspirations to build back better. But opportunities to spend wisely on recovery are not yet over,” Brian O’Callaghan, lead researcher at the Oxford University Economic Recovery Project and the report’s author, said in the press release. “Governments can use this moment to secure long-term economic, social, and environmental prosperity.”