On Green Recovery
After months of disruptions that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, many countries and regions have started to examine ways to kick-start the recovery from the aftermath of the pandemic. A lot of these plans for recovery, however, have largely been focused solely on the economic recovery, with an emphasis to go back to the “normal”. There are many instances of governments pushing aside environmental regulations and projections in order to generate and stimulate growth in their domestic economies, as seen in the United States and Canadian provinces including Ontario and Alberta.
What these plans fail to recognize is the flaw in our “normal” systems that have contributed to climate disruption, species extinction, growing inequalities, increasing pollution and health risks and that these can possibly cause further new disease outbreaks in the future on top of the forthcoming climate- and biodiversity-crises.
While reviving our economies is and should remain a key priority, we must also look past the immediate and short-term reliefs. Our governments must place a strong, cross-cutting focus on the environment- and climate-related objectives in the recovery plans, as “our recovery from this pandemic will be stronger if we correct course away from activities that cause climate disruption, biodiversity loss, environmental devastation and increasing disease spread — and exacerbate inequality.”
The European Union (EU) has been predominantly leading the momentum on the idea of green recovery. In May, the European Commission proposed a recovery proposal with massive funding instruments, placing the European Green Deal, a roadmap to making the EU’s economy sustainable, at the core. “We are choosing to accelerate the ecological transition when the time comes to reinvest in the economy,” said European Parliament environment committee chair Pascal Canfin. “COVID-19 has not made the climate crisis go away.” On July 21, EU leaders agreed on a deal on the Commission’s recovery proposal despite the “domestic political pressures and longstanding cultural differences” within the EU. It is to be praised that the EU is showing global leadership on green recovery, motivating others to do the same.
Surely there are valid reasons behind why many parts of the world see including a green agenda in their recovery plans a luxury. Countless people throughout the world are heavily experiencing the effects of the pandemic, including the loss of their jobs, economic upheaval, illness, and death. In response to this, the desire to return to “normal” is understandable.
But it is crucial to learn from what this pandemic has unveiled in terms of the inequalities existing in our societies. Studies show that COVID-19 has and is disproportionately impacting the vulnerable groups. In the Canadian context, “in Metro Montreal, COVID-19 cases are significantly higher per capita in Montreal North, an area with the lowest average after-tax income. Stats from Toronto Public Health indicate higher infection rates in areas with greater proportions of low-income people or newcomers.” Historically, too, there are examples of natural disasters having disproportionate impacts on the more vulnerable populations; for instance, U.S. data show more Indigenous and people of colour people die in heat waves or floods. Canada is no exception.
Despite the sufficient academic and scientific research that proves our current, “normal” system is deeply flawed, the political will is concerningly unmatched. Canada has yet to announce its plans for green recovery.
For these reasons, groups such as 350.org, the Canadian Federation of Students, Oxfam Canada, and The Leap have endorsed the following principles to a just, green recovery that would “enable the government and civil society to “build back better”:
- Put people’s health and well-being first, no exceptions. Health is a human right and is interdependent with the health and well-being of ecological systems.
- Strengthen the social safety net and provide relief directly to people. Focus relief efforts on people—particularly those who are structurally oppressed by existing systems.
- Prioritize the needs of workers and communities. Support must be distributed in a manner consistent with Indigenous sovereignty, a climate resilient economy, and worker rights, including safe and fair labor standards and a right to unionize. Improved conditions for essential service workers must be maintained beyond this crisis.
- Build resilience to prevent future crises. We cannot recover from the current crisis by entrenching systems that will cause the next crisis.
- Build solidarity and equity across communities, generations, and borders. In a globalized world, what happens to one of us matters to all of us.
- Uphold Indigenous rights and work in partnership with Indigenous peoples. A Just Recovery must uphold Indigenous Rights and include the full and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples, in line with the standard of free, prior, and informed consent.
Our “normal” was not good enough. We need to build our systems back, better. The first step in doing so will be ensuring that this recovery transition from the COVID-19 pandemic is socially and ecologically just and fair, for all.