24 Sep 2020

The only recovery is a green recovery

As businesses wake from hibernation and the world eases itself into something close to normal, global attention turns to economic recovery – but ignoring nature as part of these plans would be a huge error. Will the EU’s response be fit for purpose?

© Smit / Shutterstock
© Smit / Shutterstock
By Justine Guiny & Jeremy Herry

The COVID-19 pandemic has already had a huge impact on our lives, and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the years and decades to come. Its consequences are devastating and go beyond the hundreds of thousands of people that have sadly died. Millions more are out of work and have no money to spend. Our economies are not only on hold - some sectors are collapsing completely.

Our economic model has reached its limits. Constant demands for growth enabled by a free market which ignores sustainability and the planet’s limited resources no longer seem fit for purpose. By overexploiting nature, our production, consumption and trading model has proven to be one of the very roots of the spread of the virus. And these same roots drive the twin climate and biodiversity crises which threaten our very existence on this planet.

With this alarming wake-up call, human societies around the world are now facing the negative consequences of our unsustainable development model. This crisis is teaching us that our economy is entirely dependent on nature, and that we must listen to what the science tells us if we want a sustainable future. In the same way the United Nations and the European Union emerged from the ashes of World War II, we must take stock of what we have learned from this crisis to build a better, sustainable future.

While many are mobilising colossal sums in an attempt to jump-start the economy back to business as usual, citizen movements, businesses, some governments and NGOs worldwide are calling that the post-COVID-19 recovery has to be green.

What does that mean? It means making sure that the money used to recover from the COVID-19 crisis helps prevent another one: the impending climate and biodiversity crisis. In Europe, over 1.6 million citizens and 150 environmental NGOs have called on the European Union to restart its economy by launching the biggest green investment plan the world has ever seen.

Large cross-sector initiatives such as ‘The Great Reset’ led by the World Economic Forum, or the Green Alliance (gathering over 200 stakeholders, from BirdLife to the French Government), are also demanding sustainable financial investments.

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Across the map, the BirdLife Partnership has been advocating for our leaders to seize this opportunity to deliver green, structural change in our economies. The truth is, our planet already provides us with the tools we need to combine the best of both worlds: investing in restoring and protecting ecosystems can provide people with immediate sustainable jobs and long-lasting natural benefits. For instance, rebuilding oyster reefs and fish passages in coastal dams can boost economic activity in sectors such as marine construction and tourism, while increasing fish populations, improving water quality and recovering threatened ecosystems. The European Commission has also demonstrated that political power can reshape our societies by quickly unlocking huge sums of money. This has led them to set up a recovery fund of €750 billion.

European politicians have been spreading the idea that Member States would need to follow the “Do no harm” principle when implementing the recovery fund, in line with the EU’s commitments under the EU Green Deal and the recently adopted Biodiversity Strategy. Sounds good, but the devil is in the details… 

In fact, the EU’s money focuses on stimulus packages for sectors such as green transport and sustainable energy, but biodiversity and ecosystems are nowhere to be seen. They even provided €24 billion to an unreformed Common Agricultural Policy, despite a recent report from the EU Court of Auditors demonstrating how harmful it is for biodiversity. The Commission has also failed to clarify how it will bridge the assessed €470 billion gap in annual investment to meet its 2030 climate and energy goals. Moreover, the LIFE programme, the EU’s funding instrument for environment and climate action, is also under threat: the Commission wants to slash its funding by €15 million.

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, a green recovery is not some nice little bonus. It’s what we desperately need. The EU and its Member States know what the science says. We have told them time and again. They now have to act upon that knowledge – our collective survival depends on it.


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