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A Sustainable Recovery Must Be More Than Green

While climate activists are pushing for green policies to be included in the COVID-19 response, most governments remain focused on the immediate public-health and economic emergencies. If reformers want to make the most of the recovery, they will need to offer proposals that serve both the planet and ordinary people.

LONDON – With the COVID-19 pandemic having triggered a deep global recession, talk of a “green recovery” is in danger of remaining just talk. Right now, policymakers are focused on saving lives and preventing a full-fledged depression. And yet, climate change ultimately poses a much greater challenge than COVID-19. At least with the virus, there’s hope for a vaccine, perhaps within a year or two. Tackling the existential threat of climate change is a more complex, longer-term challenge.

Unless climate action is closely tied to the immediate task of protecting jobs and livelihoods, it will become yet another casualty of COVID-19. Already, green policies have been sidelined in the United States and China. With lower-income constituencies under considerable pressure from the pandemic-induced recession, there will be intense political resistance to new carbon taxes or increased spending on climate action. Better “brown” jobs than no jobs, goes the thinking.

Making matters worse, the collapse in oil prices and corporate profits has weakened the incentive to invest in renewable energies. And increased hostilities between the US and China have dimmed the prospects for new global climate agreements.