Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

30 Jun 2020

Once in a lifetime chance

Posted by Michael Keating

In a post COVID-19 world we will have a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a serious shift to sustainability. It’s clear that in the current world there is not enough appetite to save ourselves from ecological decline with all its knock-on effects of climate disasters, economic failures and great hardship for billions.

As we start to emerge from lockdowns we have an opportunity to reshape societies. There are two examples from the past century. The Great Depression of the 1930s closed companies and sent huge numbers of people lining up for soup kitchens and even killing themselves in desperation. In the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched The New Deal, which offered relief payments and public works jobs that helped reshape the country with new roads, buildings and power dams. It has long been cited as an example of how governments can save their citizens from economic collapses. At the end of the Second World War allied forces launched massive plans to rebuild shattered economies, to foster independent and democratic governments and to create a network of international institutions, including the United Nations. Now, we have another chance to rebuild society. The challenge is to make it a sustainable recovery. We need to avoid a repeat of the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis which saw governments investing in traditional projects such as coal-fired power plants, poorly insulated buildings and more roads.

Saying the COVID-19 pandemic has created “The biggest global economic shock in peacetime since the 1930s” the the International Energy Agency has produced a Sustainable Recovery Plan for a post-pandemic world. The 1 trillion USD a year program would increase wind and solar power, expand and improve electricity grids, increase cleaner transport, improve energy efficiency, make fuel production and use more sustainable, and boost innovation in clean energy. The report will be discussed next week at an online summit for countries producing the bulk of global greenhouse gas emissions. The aim is to stop the increase in greenhouse gas emissions and bring them down to the levels set in the Paris Accord of 2016.

For an academic look at possible futures, the Great Transition Initiative has just published a series of articles under the heading, After the pandemic: Which Future? Thirteen world experts examine the risks of slipping into a fortress world, inequality, collective action, a chance to change mindsets and the problems of trying to create future scenarios. For many years this online forum of ideas and international network on a transition to sustainable development has been holding discussions on the risks, barriers and opportunities of sustainability.

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