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The only recovery is a green recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic has already had a major impact on our lives and will undoubtedly continue to do so for years and decades to come. The consequences are devastating, beyond the hundreds of thousands of people who sadly have died. Millions more are unemployed and have no money to spend. Our economies are not just on hold – some sectors are collapsing completely.

Our economic model has reached its limits. Constant demands for growth from a free market that ignores sustainability and the limited resources of the planet no longer seem appropriate. With the overexploitation of nature, our model of production, consumption and trade has proven to be one of the roots of the spread of the virus. And these roots are fueling the twin climate and biodiversity crises that 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 teaches us that our economy is totally dependent on nature and that we have to listen to what science tells us if we want a sustainable future. Just as the United Nations and the European Union emerged from the ashes of World War II, we must take stock of what we learned from that crisis in order to build a better and more sustainable future.

Aquatic Warbler, Copyright Thomas Luiten, from the Surfbirds Galleries

While many are mobilizing whopping sums of money to get the economy back on track, citizen movements, corporations, some governments and NGOs worldwide are calling for the post-COVID-19 recovery to be green.

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

Large cross-sectoral initiatives such as “The Great Reset” led by the World Economic Forum or the Green Alliance (over 200 interest groups, from BirdLife to the French government) also call for sustainable financial investments.

Across the map, the BirdLife partnership has campaigned for our executives to use this opportunity to bring about green structural change in our economies. The truth is, our planet already gives us the tools we need to combine the best of both worlds: Investing in restoring and protecting ecosystems can immediately provide people with sustainable jobs and lasting natural benefits. For example, rebuilding oyster reefs and fish passages in coastal dams can boost economic activity in sectors such as marine engineering and tourism, while increasing fish populations, improving water quality and restoring threatened ecosystems. The European Commission has also shown that political power can transform our societies by unleashing huge sums of money quickly. This has led them to set up a recovery fund of EUR 750 billion.

European politicians have promoted the idea that Member States should “do no harm” in implementing the remediation 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 …

Indeed, EU money is focused on stimulus packages for sectors like clean transport and sustainable energy, but biodiversity and ecosystems are nowhere to be seen. They have even allocated EUR 24 billion for an un reformed Common Agricultural Policy, despite a recent report by the EU Court of Auditors showing how harmful it is to biodiversity. The Commission has also failed to clarify how it will bridge the estimated annual investment gap of € 470 billion to meet its 2030 climate and energy targets. In addition, the LIFE program, the EU’s financial instrument for environmental and climate action, is also threatened: the Commission wants to cut its funds by EUR 15 million.

After the COVID-19 crisis, a green recovery isn’t a nice little bonus. It is what we desperately need. The EU and its member states know what science is saying. We kept telling them. You must respond to this knowledge now – our collective survival depends on it.

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