An unprecedented pandemic reminds the world of our fundamental interdependence. Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven itself as not only a major health threat, but also a social and economic crisis that has exposed how countries are often unprepared and slow to respond to threats that were already on their radar.
Although its impact may be minor and short-lived in comparison to the negative effects of climate change, the pandemic has nevertheless created vast disruption, and has redirected the world’s focus to singularly dealing with this crisis, thereby making progress on climate change goals and related SDGs more challenging.
There are lessons to be learned from this experience however, which are of significant relevance to global climate change efforts. COVID-19 provided a stark example of the interdependencies between the natural world, health systems, economies, and society. It demonstrated how marginalized populations often bear the brunt of societal disruptions in terms of job loss, health outcomes, and security. However, it has also taught us that several means to address global challenges already exist and simply need to be implemented consistently, scaled up, and reinforced through effective policies to generate a substantial impact. The COVID response has also demonstrated on one hand how quickly new solutions can be developed when they are prioritized globally; and on the other, how ignoring scientific guidance or delaying action can lead to considerable and unnecessary negative consequences to lives, health systems, the economy, and basic societal functioning.
“And when we get past this crisis, we will face a choice – go back to the world we knew before or deal decisively with those issues that make us all unnecessarily vulnerable to this and future crises. Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal and inclusive societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other challenges we face.”— U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres
A review of several proposed green recovery plans reveals some common themes:
Clean Energy. If recovery measures move away from business as usual to apply an enhanced focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency, they could drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix and help achieve the Paris Agreement and SDGs.
Buildings. This area of focus includes both retrofitting and new construction with improved materials and energy efficient technologies.
Circular Economy. COVID-19 exposed limits on existing supply chains and emphasized a growing need for resource efficiency by incorporating greater recycling, reuse, and repair of goods as a way to enhance value-creation potential and achieve greater resilience. Several countries are therefore looking at how they can support SMEs to employ new and more sustainable business models, while planning to build low-carbon industrial centres that emphasize industrial symbiosis.
Nature-based solutions. A recent World Economic Forum report estimates that more than half of the world’s GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services. Investments in nature-based solutions can protect communities from natural hazards (such as floods), potentially reduce future outbreaks of zoonotic disease, and create economic gains.
Smart Mobility. Creating renewable-based, efficient infrastructure, incentivising electric vehicles, and promoting behavioural changes such as increased public transit and cycling, will reduce the impact of travel and provide positive health and environmental co-benefits.
Many of these themes track with the technology needs highlighted in the updated NDCs submitted by the end of last year, which predominantly focused on agriculture, climate observation and early warning, energy, industry, infrastructure and buildings, transport and water. These are also well aligned with technical assistance requests that the CTCN received last year and is beginning to receive this year. (The CTCN and the Technology Executive Committee will continue to analyse NDCs from developing countries as more are submitted this year in order to gain a full picture of technology needs.)
By directing COVID-19 economic stimulus efforts toward a greener, more resilient and inclusive recovery, countries can make meaningful progress toward achieving the aims of the Paris Agreement while increasing market opportunities and the well-being of vast populations. The New Climate Economy report estimated that investing in bold climate action could deliver an economic gain of at least 26 trillion USD between now and 2030 and create over 65 million new jobs. This finding should be given substantial consideration as countries strive to stimulate their economic recoveries.