Covid-19 and the Environment

Green New Deal
Graphic thanks to Ron Mader https://www.flickr.com/photos/planeta/33374487248/

Every cloud has a silver lining and, despite the dark shadow that Covid-19 casts over us all at the moment, there is one positive that we should all welcome.

That silver lining is the environmental respite that has come with lockdown. Without cars on the road, planes in the sky and production levels at their normal rates, our CO2 emissions have dramatically declined.

In what is being described as a carbon crash the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that the world will use 6% less energy this year – equivalent to losing the entire energy demand of India. In China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, there has been a 25% reduction in the carbon dioxide pumped into the air thanks to less coal burning and the reductions in traffic.

This is of huge significance given the previous relentless rise in carbon emissions – we should not see it as a side issue or standalone matter. To do that would suggest that it’s an item on a balancing scale; more human activity equals a decline in the environment, less human activity equals a recovery of the environment.

Cracking the climate emergency nut is not as simple as blaming humans, but that doesn’t mean it’s not simple.

The worldwide pandemic response demonstrates clearly that government interventions matters. It comes down to choice; drastic change is possible if it’s the will of government. To prevent global temperatures from rising we have to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and there won’t be a lockdown every year until then to keep us on track. At some point climate-friendly policies will have to be chosen and implemented. We all play our part in the fight against climate change, but it’s time that governments stopped making out that the responsibility lies only with its citizens. No amount of reusable coffee cups and hybrid cars can solve this thing on its own. We must also have decisive top-down action.

Yes, there is a one positive through the coronavirus loss and trauma; it is that it offers a springboard.

As the Green New Deal Group articulates, far from being a standalone issue, we face multiple linked crises. “It’s a combination of accelerating climate breakdown driven by fossil fuel use, corrosive inequality, and debt-fuelled over-consumption by a global minority pushing us beyond planetary ecological barriers”. Is a Green New Deal our springboard?

Whether in Wales the appropriate term should be ‘Green New Deal’, the use of the term is interesting because of course its origin lies in Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1930s America. In the throes of the Great Depression FDR’s New Deal had three aims: to provide relief for the poor, economic recovery, and to reform financial systems so that economic depression wouldn’t happen again. Relief, Recover, Reform.

To make good on these promises the Congress of the day improved use of the nation’s resources and created government work programmes which were designed to put the unemployed in work which served a purpose to society, such as constructing roads, schools, parks and hospitals.

It’s not so much the name, but the underlying ideas that we should take from Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Applied to a modern-day Covid-19 impacted Wales, the first step is resisting the urge to cut spending. The Green New Deal would see us invest in projects that cut greenhouse gas emissions but which also stimulate economic growth. A study from Oxford University compared green stimulus projects with traditional stimulus schemes, such as measures taken after the 2008 global financial crisis. It found that green projects create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns per pound spent by the government, and lead to increased long-term cost savings.

And it doesn’t have to wait. Shovel-ready and social distancing friendly jobs can be created now. Energy efficiency programmes to insulate the UK’s draughty housing stock, the building of electric vehicle charging networks, redesigning roads for more cycling, flood protection and planting trees. In Wales, the potential is ripe.

Plaid Cymru has a raft of ideas ready to be put into action – a greener homes programmes aimed at home energy efficiency improvements, creating an inventory of green energy potential in Wales, establishing a national energy agency, and a cash injection into our valuable tidal, hydro and wind resources.

To frame it in Roosevelt’s terms:

  • Relief would come from high employment rates in good quality jobs preventing the widening wealth divides that would result from economic collapse.
  • Recovery would come to the environment by reversing the emission spilling that comes from supporting fossil fuel companies, and turn towards the abundance of natural resources in Wales instead. Any bailout for heavy emitting sectors, such as airlines and car manufacturing, could be subject to attached conditions that would require the companies to contribute to lowering our carbon footprint.
  • Reform would transform the economy. Yes, we would see economic benefit from appropriate investment in jobs, research and infrastructure, but the investment would serve a larger purpose than economic growth for its own sake. Success would be measured by the wellbeing of our society, our thriving communities and jobs, which contribute to the fight against the climate emergency.

What’s important to note is that embracing a Green New Deal would be a distinct hands-on approach of government because we know that this works. What an effective government can recognise is that the Green New Deal is not just about economic growth; it’s about protecting livelihoods, putting an end to food banks, preventing suicides and being globally responsible.

The Green New Deal Group has said that the UK Government has already missed the chance by failing to prioritise funding a nationwide training and works programme to make all the UK’s 30 million homes and workplaces energy-efficient.

Can Wales be different? Plaid Cymru is ready to meet that challenge.

Image, with thanks: By Becker1999 from Grove City, OH – img_100 (34), CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80980288

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