Covid19 Emergency Is a Green One
* Text: The only emergence from the Covid19 Emergency is a green one: A message to European finance ministers to double down on European Green Deal as the economic response to the Corona-pandemic. By Sandrine Dixson-Declève, Hunter Lovins, Kate Raworth, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. Club of Rome, 20/3/2020
"Your gut clenches: “quarantine,” “lock down” How do I protect my family, my livelihood, my future? You are not the only one in panic: CEOs of multi-billion Euro companies and small business owners cry for help from their national governments: save the economy, save jobs, stop the global recession! As G7 Heads of State meet virtually and European finance ministers meet in a telephone-conference to discuss a return of the European Stability Mechanism ESM and G7 markets are still in panic.
This fear is already shifting politics: Ursula von der Leyen`s Green Deal for Europe is being pushed off the agenda as finance ministers bring in the “bazooka” of government support for business as usual - which means the old fossil fuel economy. Few things could be worse than this: Pandemics don’t just happen out of nowhere, they are one of the symptoms of a planet stretched passed its natural limits.
Of course, the Covid19-pandemic requires a fast and strong response in the next days and weeks. Yet the biggest part of the long term response is the one already on the desks of this Commission: The Green Deal. Doubling down on it, speeding it up and using it to support businesses during the Corona Crisis is the best thing EU Member States, the European Parliament and Commission can do in the coming months.
Who are we to say? At the Club of Rome we have for over 50 years sounded the alarm of coming crises. We have warned of the dangerous risk of doing nothing and the deep environmental and societal impacts of recent crises - from bushfires in Australia to Island States like the Marshall Islands going under water. In 2019 alone the most costly weather events enhanced by climate change were California wildfires ($25 billion), Typhoon Hagibis in Japan ($15 billion) and flooding in the American Midwest ($12.5 billion). These figures do not include the loss of life.
We have learned some lessons we would like to share.
1 Nature is bigger than we tend to think. Even a minute virological accident in a distant place can wreak havoc on the globalized society. The Corona pandemic is teaching us a shocking lesson as to why and how business as usual must be overcome. It is clearly linked to planetary limits: Deforestation, biodiversity loss and climate change have been pointed out by scientists as major drivers behind pandemics. Deforestation drives wild animals out of their natural habitats and closer to human populations, creating a greater opportunity for zoonotic diseases like COVID19. According to the WHO and IPCC, global warming is likely to lead to the emergence of new viruses that will also spread further and more quickly.
2. If you think Corona is scary - it is only a training day for what will happen if we dont stop the ongoing climate crisis: Global warming is orders of magnitude more dangerous. Anthropogenic global warming will kill our civilization if it cannot be contained to the Paris corridor. And, of course, novel virus outbreaks would accompany unbridled climate change and ecosystems destruction. Yet this would only be a collateral damage in an apocalyptic drama.
To avoid this, we must protect our Paris Agreement goals of a 1.5-degree world and commitments to net zero emissions targets. Climate change, like COVID19 and financial crises, has no respect for borders. And it can only be solved by collective action begun now. The speed of the virus’ spread shows that ours is a global community – all species, all countries, all issues are completely interconnected. To emerge from this with a world worth living in, we must solve not only this immediate threat but the deeper systemic crises.
3. Is this too much panic for you? Then remember: The "professionals" that ridiculed Greta et al. in 2019 over her calls for emergency action are also panicking in 2020 and ask for a war mentality to "defeat" the virus. These are the very same people that rejected any inconveniences that might come along with saving the planet. Yet, while it is suddenly possible to bring out the “bazooka” of government money to support the economy, an emergency response now seems logical to them or we say is acceptable to them as long as it props up the old economy.
This is probably the biggest lesson The Club of Rome has to offer:
If we cope with each new crisis as it arises, with the same growth narrative that got us here, the crises will exceed the capacity of governments, financial institutions and corporate crisis managers to cope. This warning was given in 1972 by the Club of Rome in its report, “The Limits to Growth” and again in 1992 by Dr. Donella Meadows in “Beyond the Limits”. Meadows’ second CoR report described how the future facing us is not one of a single emergency, but of multiple crises coming at us, driven by humanity’s failure to live within Earth’s limits. This “overshoot, she warned, it is drawing upon the earth's resources faster than they can be restored, and is releasing wastes and pollutants faster than the earth can absorb them or render them harmless. Collectively, she warned, these could overwhelm our ability to manage multiple challenges.”
Yet Covid19 show us one thing: Change is possible: A different world, a different economy is suddenly happening. The deep changes imposed on our daily lives by the virus’s emergency policies demonstrate that there are alternatives to the wasteful consumerism that has grown and triumphed since the 1960’s. Governments can respond to a crisis in an appropriate measure. Not only governments, all of us can and do: Climate campaigns were not able to reduce flying across the planet, but the Corona crisis demonstrates that we are not worse off if we are videoconferencing across the Atlantic.
4. If Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future were right about the need to panic, they are also right about the way forward: "Follow the science" is the mantra of all governments who successfully contain the epidemics in their respective countries.
But we can do much better - right now we change through disaster, not design. We can follow the science also for solutions that get us out of climate, biodiversity crisis and this pandemic. Now is not the time to prop up old neoliberal regimes but rather to invest in what matters. We can put in place the foundations for an ambitious Green Deal for all European citizens, anchored in circular and low carbon economic thinking and the public good. This should be a model and successful deep demonstration for the world of how we can “emerge from emergency”.
We know what the solutions are: investing in renewable energy instead of fossil fuels; investing in nature and reforestation; shifting to a more circular, shared and low carbon economy. By greening the Earth, adopting nature based solutions and empowering communities to act holistically we can regenerate life, increase carbon sequestration, build resilience and focus on positive actions as a source of collective hope and optimism. All we need is political leadership and financial support to scale up these solutions.
The good news is that there is a very strong business case for a comprehensive approach to dealing with the onslaught of crises linked to our Planetary and Human Emergency. A transition away from fossil energy to a renewable future is happening because renewable energy is already cheaper now than fossil energy and available at a global scale. With the fall of oil prices, perverse fossil fuel subsidies can finally be eliminated as promised by the G7 and many European countries already in 2009. There is an equally strong argument for embracing energy efficiency measures and fostering proper demand side management measures across households and industrial installations.
Transitioning from industrial agriculture to regenerative agriculture is immediately feasible and will sequester sufficient carbon in the soil profitably to begin to reverse the climate crisis. Regenerative agriculture and soil health is key to both solving the planetary emergency and enhancing greater resilience, jobs and well-being in both rural and urban communities. It underpins rural prosperity, food security, community health, and better nutrition for a growing population.
To truly emerge from emergency, we have to ensure that all people, but especially the most marginal, have the means to achieve a decent standard of living. At the same time, we must all learn to live within the planetary boundaries. This is the premise behind Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics, Doing this , she argues, learning to think like a 21st century economist, will create “the safe and just operating space for all of humanity.” It is also the route to achieving a finer future, by creating an economy in service to life.
The companies and communities that shift to resilient, regenerative practices will be the first to the future. These will be the companies that young people want to work for and the communities where people will want to live. Companies will have lower costs, better brand recognition, fewer risks and higher employee engagement. Numerous studies show that these companies are more profitable, perform better in the market and are best prepared for the future we want to create.
For EU finance ministers and Heads of State from across the globe our call is the following: As they draft immediate crisis response measures, they must immediately start linking them to intelligent holistic policies like the EU Green Deal. These include such provisions as a just transition away from fossil energy to a world of renewable energy, the elimination of each country’s share of the $5.2 trillion spent every year (IMF) on subsidies to fossil fuels. We need to shift these perverse subsidies to create community resilience programs and enable ordinary people and communities to have access to micro-grids, energy efficiency, healthy food and cheap low carbon mobility systems.
As humans we’re resilient. We’re entrepreneurial; we begin again. The future can be positive and we can finally learn from our failings: Let’s emerge with this emergency, creating more resilient communities, greater health and wellbeing, and shared prosperity on a healthy planet so that we can truly emerge from emergency stronger and more resilient."
- Sandrine Dixson-Declève, Co-President The Club of Rome,
- Hunter Lovins, President Natural Capitalism Solutions, Member The Club of Rome,
- Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director Emeritus, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Member The Club of Rome,
- Kate Raworth Senior Associate, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, Member The Club of Rome