If you type “green recovery” in the Google search bar, you get nearly one billion results. By contrast, Netflix, the ultra popular streaming service, only gets about 690 million. This says a lot about priorities these days. People are interested in everything related to the coronavirus crisis, including its long lasting effects on the quality of our lives.
‘Green recovery’ has become more than just a catchy phrase that governments throw out there to sound like they have the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects under control. It is now an official goal that brought together leaders from across that globe, which, at least theoretically, want to use this crisis as an opportunity. For some, this is an opportunity to build a better environment, to cut carbon emissions and keep the planet and its inhabitants healthy, all backed by a new sustainable economy. For others, this is an opportunity to push harder on commitments for reversing climate change consequences as a necessary move to save the economy.
A green and sustainable economy does sound like a utopia in a world still consumed by ignorance and materialism, but there is hope. Every little action counts. From each individual, to each city and country across the world. And all these actions need to be publicized, as they speak louder than any leader reciting well-written speeches.
But, let’s take it step by step. What is a green recovery?
The ‘green recovery’ is a sum of environmental, regulatory and fiscal reforms aimed at getting cities back on track after the COVID-19 pandemic. At the core of this set of measures is the aim to reverse the effects of climate change through less polluting transportation and an environmentally responsible economy. The ‘move’ started after some of the major cities across the globe wanted to amplify the effects of reduced traffic—a result of the lockdown—by closing down several streets to cars and only allowing pedestrians and cyclists to use them. Actually, cycling has become one of the most popular forms of transportation in the pandemic thanks to the fact that it does not involve human contact and has been a catalyst for what we now call ‘green recovery.’
Right now, the green recovery is tied to the destination of the stimulus packages put forward by all major economies in the world as a response to the crisis caused by COVID-19. According to Vivid Economics’ Greenness of Stimulus Index, few countries have managed to actually follow the path to a more sustainable future, with care for the climate. Out of the total $12.2 trillion, the sum of the fiscal stimulus policies of the G20 countries—Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States and the European Union (E.U.)—less than $4 trillion are environmentally relevant.
One third of the $12.2 trillion is represented by the E.U.’s recovery budget, considered to be among the few countries/regions to have a positive impact on the environment. Actually, the E.U. and South Korea are the only positive examples highlighted in the index, as well as in the recently published Climate Action Tracker. The report by the New Climate Institute and Climate Analytics shows that “only South Korea and the E.U. have communicated overarching packages (aggregated rescue and recovery announcements) with any deliberate focus on green recovery.”
One of the most problematic policies, the Vivid Economics analysis shows, belongs to the U.S. Of the $3 trillion package the U.S. passed, less than 4 percent is directed towards environmentally relevant sectors:
- $60 billion allocated to airlines and cargo carriers in the aviation/transport sector
- $25 billion has been allocated to transport infrastructure, shipping and trucking
- $23.5 billion has been allocated to support the agriculture sector
In fact, the U.S. is among the countries that are “using the pandemic as an excuse to continue an unsustainable ‘business as usual’,” alongside states like Brazil, Mexico, Russia or Saudi Arabia, according to the Climate Tracker. The same report points out the fact that the U.S. “has not attached any green strings to a large volume of immediate rescue packages to date (14 percent of GDP),” especially the $510 billion of loans and guarantees of the CARES Act. Other than the financial aid for airline companies and airports, the U.S. has not allocated or planned to direct funds towards transport or mobility.
What does a green recovery mean for big cities?
In short… A chance for a better future (or any future, for that matter). In the U.S., the progress towards sustainable living is more a local effort. The Vivid Economics analysis shows that the State of New York invested nearly $1 billion into electric vehicle infrastructure, public transit and off-shore wind power. This is also a response to New Yorkers’ appetite for electric vehicles (EV)—an announcement by Governor Andrew Cuomo made last year highlighted a 63 percent jump in EV sales across the state in 2018. Also, the City’s official website has a designated section dedicated to the COVID-19 Green Recovery where it commits to a “green recovery that prioritizes clean energy, resilient infrastructure, and environmental justice (that) will help accelerate economic recovery while enhancing social equity.” The biggest step in this direction made by city officials was adhering to the C40 statement of principles with mayors of other major cities across the globe.
On the West Coast, only California stands out thanks to its environmental policies. The state’s energy commission has used geothermal energy investment as a potential stimulus measure. Los Angeles and Oakland are among the cities that have been working to reduce traffic and make their streets more pedestrian friendly as the pandemic hit and reduced driving. Oakland’s decision to keep cars away from 74 miles of its streets (about 10 percent in total) is already well-known. However, green recovery plans in major U.S. cities are progressing slowly. For some urban areas, this recovery would be a great opportunity to offer residents a better, healthier life. For other cities, like Miami and New Orleans, green efforts are not a choice, but a necessity. Both cities are dealing with the effects of rising sea levels and severe weather. Louisiana has invested $25 billion to protect communities from floods, but more is needed to avoid a worst-case scenario.
How realistic is a green recovery?
From the looks of it, it’s all plans, agreements and underspending thus far. It seems that most government leaders have the best intentions, but when the time comes to implement the measure, economic interests prevail. It will take more determination and public pressure to help move things forward. Even global organizations like the International Monetary Fund are skeptical about the green recovery. In a paper on the topic published in September, it stated that “the pandemic is only a prelude to a looming climate crisis.” The analysis also points out that the COVID-19 crisis has put a strain on many countries’ public finances and this will make it even more difficult to implement policies to avoid the disastrous effects of climate change. It will take more than plans that sound good on paper, to actually see the effects of the green recovery. Each American can contribute by investing in sustainable products and services, commuting without polluting and making more informed lifestyle choices. There are a few very good apps that can help with this. For example, Float can help consumers travel smarter within cities by saving them time and money.