Why boosting climate policy must be at the heart of our coronavirus pandemic recovery
by Dr Anton Hofreiter MdB, Co-chair of the parliamentary group Alliance 90 / The Greens in the German Bundestag, Berlin
The coronavirus has shed a light on a new type of security threat. Everyone became aware that no border and no weapon on the planet can protect us from the deadly virus. The same applies to the climate crisis, the biggest threat of our time. We must take the lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, rethink security, and end short-sighted policies by using the recovery to invest in forward-thinking, coherent, and strong climate policies. This would give us a chance to tackle the climate crisis and rebuild a greener, safer, and more secure world.
Lessons learned from the pandemic
It makes sense to learn from the Covid-19 crisis because it has several factors in common with the climate crisis: firstly, both require scientific evidence to inform sound decision making and they require preventive and decisive action. Our goal is to flatten the curve of the pandemic and to prevent the virus from spreading exponentially. The same is true for the climate crisis: now is the time for more ambitious climate action as the impacts of the climate crisis will intensify with the global temperature rise. A second commonality is that they are borderless. We must therefore address these threats across borders in a spirit of multilateral cooperation, collaboration, and solidarity. The Global North bears a special responsibility to support the Global South in coping with both crises. Thirdly, the two crises disproportionately affect the most vulnerable groups – a fact that should be taken into account when drafting policies. Fourthly, once the threats materialise, they undermine critical systems including public health, food supply, finance, as well as national and human security.
Climate crisis: ever worsening extremes
The climate crisis differs however from the Covid-19 pandemic in one very fundamental aspect: it brings ever worsening extremes. Despite the pandemic lockdown, followed by an economic slowdown, we only had a short-term reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, while the dangerous concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere continued to rise. In 2020, CO2 emissions reached the highest level in human history.
While there is no vaccine in the literal sense for the climate crisis, we know fairly accurately what needs to be done to tackle the biggest threat of our time: limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably 1.5°C. In order to save our future, we have to finally listen to science, and policy makers worldwide have to communicate the unprecedented threat of the climate crisis which could be further exacerbated once we pass climate tipping points. According to a recent climate study, up to 3.5 billion people could be living in extreme heat conditions in 2070, well outside the human comfort range, if we fail to implement the Paris Agreement. Only if we keep climate change high on the political agenda do we have a chance to combat the crisis and to mitigate the most devastating impacts. Secondly, we need to plan because there is glory in prevention! Thirdly, this leads to the need for governments worldwide to put climate policies at the heart of their national Covid-19 recovery programmes to transit into a green future. Currently, that is not the case. Countries around the globe are not doing enough, bailing out fossil industries unconditionally, with CO2 emissions rebounding strongly.
How green is the Covid-19 recovery?
Let’s have a look at the European Union as it is the largest economic area in the world and the third largest emitter on this planet. In February 2021, the European Parliament adopted the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), an unprecedented instrument designed to help the EU to “build back better” after the pandemic. The RRF will make €672.5 bn in grants and loans available to Member States to support their investments and reforms to navigate the green transition. There are two pieces of good news: firstly, for the first time, funds were raised collectively at the EU level to be allocated in solidarity to member states based on the impact of the pandemic. This is the approach that we need in times of borderless threats and crises. Secondly, the RRF sets a mandatory green investment target of 37% for each country’s plan. As the Greens, we wanted every other euro of the total budget to be spent on climate protection but applaud that the RRF is setting the right direction. Now, it is up to the EU Member States to apply this goal rigorously and even exceed wherever and whenever possible. Moreover, the national investment plans are being scrutinised at the EU level based on the principle of “do no significant harm” and in line with new EU sustainable finance rules. The EU Commission must monitor closely that this principle and climate goals are not watered down.
Pledging a record sum of money is one thing, while spending it wisely is another. Unfortunately, the German government is missing the opportunity to make ambitious investments into a green transition. Instead, it plans to invest 80% of the RRF funds into the already up and running stimulus programme. The German research organisation, the Wuppertal Institute, along with the think tank E3G, reviewed the national plans, concluding that Germany’s draft RRP does not achieve the minimum climate quota and, when assessing all recovery measures, Germany reaches a green spending share of just 22%. In contrast, 36% of all measures have a negative impact or are at least at risk of having a negative effect on the green transition. According to a calculation of the RRF by the think-tank Agora Energiewende, the largest green EU pledge ever still leaves a huge funding gap to enable accelerated climate action in this decade. To meet the EU’s emissions goals, €2.4 tn in climate-friendly investments are needed. A missed chance that will be costly for future generations.
A historic opportunity we cannot fail to grasp
Our Covid-19 recovery so far is not enough for a climate-safe future. Even with the ambitious green EU pledge we fall far from the necessary climate actions. What we need is a more coherent and more comprehensive boost of climate policies across all policy departments from agriculture and finance to security and development because rapid global warming is affecting all areas of our lives.
To combat the climate crisis, we need to put our focus on climate justice. The same applies to the Covid-19 recovery. Huge financial investments in rich countries – even if they are green – are by far not enough. Germany, Europe, and other strong countries must link short-term efforts to alleviate the pandemic emergencies also outside of Europe by investing in long-term, crisis-resilient and climate friendly partnerships. Simultaneously, and with particular urgency, rich countries must eliminate unfair mechanisms such as protectionist trade regarding medical instruments and agricultural products that harm countries in the Global South. Given the devastating consequences on the lives and livelihoods of societies around the world that both current crises have, it is clear that the main security threats of our time are global threats, impacting all humans, that we have to tackle. This makes security more than ever a question of international solidarity, common ambitious action, resilience, and ability to regenerate. Highly important prerequisites for a more secure planet are ecological and climate protection, fair international trade, partnerships based on climate justice, and investments in sustainable, climate-resilient and green development.
Dr Anton Hofreiter MdB
Dr Anton Hofreiter Mdb has been serving as co-chair of the parliamentary group Alliance 90/The Greens in the German parliament since 2013. Born in 1970 in Munich, he holds a PhD in botany from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. He became a member of the Green party in 1986 and a member of the German parliament in 2005, serving as chairman of the Committee on Transport, Building and Urban Development (2011-2013) before taking up his current position.