EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

The new European Commission’s cardinal goal has been the promotion of a sustainable Europe through the introduction of the European Green Deal. However, the current world-wide COVID-19 crisis could potentially have a strong impact on environmental policies, EU’s effort to promote climate neutrality, and the willingness of some Member States to maintain the climate ambitions they had committed to. Even though this global health crisis has so far led to lower energy demand, which has in turn reduced global greenhouse gas emissions, it is important to keep in mind that this development is only temporary and that the economic recovery post-Covid-19 may lead to a higher growth in emissions due to economic stimulus being prioritized over sustainability.

Therefore, all economic stimulus combatting the economic downturn brought on by Covid-19 should be complementary to rather than at the expense of the continuous decarbonization effort within Europe. Although the Covid-19 crisis rightfully takes highest priority right now, the recovery in its aftermath cannot be done at the expense of long-term sustainability and climate neutrality to the detriment of future generations, who will then face a challenge of much higher magnitude than the current crisis.

Ambitious climate action is not mutually exclusive to economic prosperity. The stimulus needed post-Covid-19 presents an opportune moment for sustainable financing to become an integral part of the economic recovery, while simultaneously sparing future generations a much larger calamity. In this respect, clean technologies such as wind and solar holds strong potential in the Czech Republic due to sustainable financial trends.[1]Coal is already financially viable only through strong subsidization, a trend mirrored in all fossil industries, who are subsidized astronomically; fossil industries receive roughly 6.4% of the global GDP in subsidies. In comparison, renewables only receive only 1.7%. By boosting an emerging sector like renewables and by creating a level playing field, renewables benefit consumers in terms of affordability, economic prosperity, and climate sustainability.[2]

If Covid-19 has led to anything, it’s an increased focus on public health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), not only does air pollution kill an estimated seven million people worldwide every year, EPHA (European Public Health Alliance) shows that air pollution makes COVID-19 more fatal.[3] The financial upside as well as the public health benefit to decreasing air pollution cannot be overstated.

The European Union is closing its external borders and most Member States have already closed their national borders to prevent further spreading of the virus. It is obvious that in the upcoming period, emphasis will be placed on national decision-making but this crisis shows that no state can resolve this health crisis alone; in a globalized and increasingly interconnected world, international cooperation should be promoted, especially when it comes to preparedness for climate risks that are still evolving and will not wait while we are struggling with the pandemic. Dealing with the pandemic does not exclude carbon neutrality, and one should not be dealt with at the expense of the other. [4]

Furthermore, public health is closely linked to climate; if global temperature continues to rise, nations will face a multitude of challenges ranging from public health due to more dangerous epidemics than Covid-19, climate-induced migratory waves, natural disasters, resource scarcity, and more. Health and climate scientists point out that viral outbreaks may become more frequent as the climate crisis progresses, affecting the movement of humans, animals and pathogens, due to human encroachment on natural habitat of viral carriers. According to the World Health Organization, climate change and the loss of biodiversity are still expanding the spread of infectious diseases. Climate change is a global health emergency.[5]

According to the United States Agency for International Development, almost 75 percent of all emerging diseases affecting humans in the early 21st century come from animals. Wild animals that have been able to carry diseases without effect for years now increasingly come into contact with humans, often caused by deforestation. WHO warned “that infectious diseases are increasing due to the combined effects of rapid demographic, environmental, social, technological and other changes in our way of life.” Many diseases known to be climate-sensitive, such as malaria, dengue or cholera, are expected to worsen as climate change will lead to a rise in temperatures and more extreme weather events.[6]

The COVID-19 crisis will change the fundamental outlook of the global populace; it could be an opportunity to re-think our existential societal structures and habits, be it in terms of economic configuration, means of production, or simply our health even after the crisis. Maybe it will help us find less polluting ways to do our jobs. This major crisis could lead in disruption to our normal way of doing things, which might look like an inconvenience at first, but can be an opportunity for real change.[7]

Kateřina Šubová

[1]https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/03/coronavirus-economy-low-carbon-investments

[2] https://www.vox.com/2019/5/17/18624740/fossil-fuel-subsidies-climate-imf

[3] https://www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution#tab=tab_1

[4]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/24/covid-19-economic-rescue-plans-must-be-green-say-environmentalists

[5] https://www.who.int/globalchange/climate/en/chapter6.pdf

[6]https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2014/09/04/how-climate-change-is-exacerbating-the-spread-of-disease/

[7] http://www.g-feed.com/2020/03/covid-19-reduces-economic-activity.html

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