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Green stimulus packages could play role in post-pandemic economic recovery

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The CEO of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the independent UK government advisor on climate issues, has said that vast economic stimuli packages with a focus on decarbonisation may be on the table as the world eventually moves towards recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Governments around the world are responding to the worst health crisis in more than a century with strict restrictions on businesses and individuals and enormous stimulus packages to support economies through the disruption.

In the UK, with all but essential workers barred from travelling to work and most public spaces closed in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the government is pouring hundreds of billions of pounds into supporting individuals and businesses, including the unprecedented offer to cover 80 per cent of an employee's wages up to £2,500 per month if they are unable to work due to the pandemic. The policies represent levels of government intervention unseen since the Second World War.

Now, campaigners, lawmakers, and academics are making the case for similar measures to decarbonise economies.

Minimising global temperature rises by cutting carbon dioxide emissions – such as by shifting away from fossil fuel dependence, improving energy efficiency of buildings, developing carbon capture and storage technologies, and reducing aviation – is at the core of the world’s climate commitments under the Paris Agreement. Some lawmakers and campaigners in the UK and US have argued that there is need for a 'Green New Deal' or 'Green Industrial Revolution' – a vast public investment in green infrastructure – in order to meet these climate commitments within a safe timescale.

Speaking to Reuters, CCC CEO Chris Stark has called for governments to consider vast investments in decarbonisation similar to those being rolled out to prevent economic and social collapse through the coronavirus pandemic.

“It almost certainly looks as if CO2 emissions will go down this year, but I wouldn’t take any false security from that,” he said, referring to much of transport (particularly aviation) and industry grinding to a halt. “The question is what happens after. We locked in higher global CO2 emissions after the last global financial crisis.”

Stark acknowledged that the pandemic has shifted global attention away from climate issues in what would have been a crucial year in which world leaders would implement the Paris Agreement during the annual UN climate change conference. The conference is planned to take place in Glasgow in November, although Stark said that he would not be surprised if organisers were forced to postpone the summit. Most of the world’s large gatherings – from Eurovision to developer conferences – have been cancelled or postponed in an effort to minimise risk of transmission.

Stark said that the emphasis of the conference may move towards discussion of a post-pandemic economic stimulus for decarbonisation: “The [conference] itself will have to change and the themes will need to be more driven by a green recovery.”

“Globally, the question will be “Do we lock in the use of fossil fuels in our infrastructure choices […] or do we instead look to a green stimulus?” he said.

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