Op-Eds

Today’s dramatic pandemic can only be dealt with through increased solidarity, aiming to remove the immediate threats people are facing and to build fairer societies that are more resilient to future shocks, writes Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe.

This op-ed was originally published by ENDS Europe on 17 April 2020.

When the house is on fire, the priority is to put it out. The widespread Covid-19 outbreak hits everyone and jeopardises people’s lives, livelihoods, jobs and freedoms. The urgency is clearly to ensure that everyone, starting with the most vulnerable, has access to high quality healthcare and social services, and to protect workers from the economic breakdown induced by the pandemic.

Once the Covid emergency is under control, solidarity also means governments must allow their citizens to enjoy fundamental goods, including access to social justice and the right to live and work in a healthy environment. The recovery measures proposed by EU leaders must therefore look at both the short and the longer term, as both perspectives are essential to ensure that the answer to the urgency does not reproduce the conditions that sparked the crisis in the first place.

Scientific evidence is growing of the link between nature’s depletion and pandemics. Investment decisions taken now must therefore prepare the ground for sustainable economies that put people, nature protection and climate mitigation before short-term profits. Hence the economic stimuli can be a chance to lift economies out of the crisis in a sustainable way, avoiding past mistakes.

Some EU leaders, however, are using the raging fire in the house as an excuse to abandon or neglect long-term commitments to build safer societies. They argue they need more time to assess the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on current and future economic growth, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. But this sounds like politicians giving up on the idea that they must anticipate and shape the future, rather than just wait and react to it. Hopefully, the European Commission and the Council insist the bailout measures must be consistent with the European Green Deal. But how will they make sure EU member states will resist simply handing out money?

The economic recovery measures must benefit people, but also businesses that offer real, clean and long-term alternatives in areas such as renewable energy and energy efficiency. Bailing out fossil fuel industries that are doomed to disappear in a zero-carbon world, rather than supporting the reskilling of workers and providing sustainable, good quality jobs to those impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels, is clearly not an option. The same goes for polluting, intensive farming or for companies that exacerbate the depletion of the natural world in general.

If our leaders get it right, these economic stimuli can stop throwing good money after bad, and do what the market cannot do alone: ensure people’s equal access to fundamental goods, including the right to live in a healthy environment.

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