Humanity is under severe pressure from the coronavirus pandemic, and few are unscathed. Our first priority is always to protect citizens and to safeguards people’s livelihoods so that when the storm has passed, we can confront the future together. However, the window of opportunity to act on climate change will not stay open for ever. And as politicians, we need to treat societal challenges in a holistic way. Therefore, we need to search synergies between COVID-19 recovery and the Green Deal instead of playing them off against each other. Multilateral cooperation and international solidarity play an essential role here.
As politicians and progressives, we have to show leadership. We have to act with a keen awareness of our responsibility for society in the broadest sense. We have to be mindful not to pursue certain avenues of action just because they used to work in the past.
And while it is crystal clear that our first priority now must be to deal with the immediate threat of the pandemic and the associated economic turmoil, we need to do so in a fashion that takes into account the defining challenge of our time, climate change. Trillions will be unleashed globally in various recovery plans in attempts to kickstart the economy and improve the steadily worsening job situation. In the EU, this needs to happen within the framework of the Green Deal – it was the right economic strategy for Europe before the crisis and will remain so.
Some voices in the EU have called for the abandonment of the Green Deal in order to focus efforts on fighting the coronavirus. In my view, this is not a case of either or. On the contrary. Rather than pursuing solutions to the economic fallout of the corona crisis that undermine our ability to deal with another pertinent crisis, we need to look for synergies between the two. As politicians, we have a duty to treat societal challenges in a holistic manner.
Reverting to the business as usual approaches of the world of yesterday, for example through increased support of fossil fuels, will make it both much more difficult and much more expensive to get back on the right track again. It is not cost-efficient and does not take into account the time sensitive nature of climate change: if we do not act now, we risk that the window of opportunity closes. And the repercussions of breaching temperature thresholds will reverberate for decades and centuries.
In the morass of the coronavirus, it is becoming increasingly likely that global greenhouse gas emissions will decline this year. However, like a sick person losing weight, that is neither a desirable nor a sustainable diet for the world. The green transition needs to be fuelled by smart, systemic changes – not depend on emissions dropping due to an economic downturn. It is, however, an opportunity for a coordinated assault on the emissions curve in the hope of finally bending it.
In the past, for example in the aftermath of the financial crisis, focus on synergies between our common climate ambitions and economic recovery played perhaps too small a role. However, it is important to recognise that we are in a very different situation now than we were then. Not only has the world formally recognised the seriousness of the climate situation and the commonality of the challenge through the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. The costs of many of the key technological pieces of the green jigsaw puzzle have also plummeted.
Wind and solar is already (more than) able to compete with fossil fuels in many places around the world, and both industries already provide many green jobs with the potential for even more. Other green technologies are on the verge of breaking through, but an investment boost is needed to speed up the process.
While the immediate threat of the coronavirus has forced many of us to – rightfully – focus on national measures to mitigate the crisis, the case for multilateral cooperation and international solidarity has never been clearer. If we take the wrong decisions now, we risk severely hampering our ability as a global community to deal with the immense challenge of climate change. But if we chart the correct course out of this agonizing morass, there is a good chance that, when the storm has finally passed, the sun will shine on greener and more resilient societies.