3 years ago

Will the Coronavirus Crisis Trump the Climate Crisis?

The battle over how to spend recovery funds — to quickly restore the old economy or invest in a greener one — will define the post-pandemic world.


With the global paralysis induced by the coronavirus, levels of pollution and carbon emission are dropping everywhere — leaving bluer skies, visible mountains, splendid wildflowers.


So for many, like the suddenly unemployed, concerns about climate — which seemed urgent just a few months ago — can seem less so now.


Those competing camps are now locked in debate over how and what to rebuild — between those who want to get the economy moving again, no matter how, and those who argue that the crisis is a chance to accelerate the transition to a cleaner economy.


For green militants, the virus “only strengthens the urgent need for climate action,’’ he wrote recently.


As European governments squabble bitterly over a virus-recovery fund and the next seven-year budget, the issue is front and center.

The European Union began the year promoting a plan for a rapid transformation of the economy toward a carbon-neutral future — “the Green Deal” — as its flagship theme and engine for renewed growth.

European leaders insist that some form of it will remain paramount, but the new coronavirus has complicated matters.

The question is how far anyone is willing to go now, as political leaders across the continent come under pressure from citizens for economic relief, as well as from industries desperate to get their old factories running again.

The bloc is debating a law to enforce carbon neutrality by 2050, but many want to toughen targets for 2030 — by moving from a proposed 40 percent reduction from 1990 levels in the next decade, to as much as 55 percent.

They argued that the pandemic is an opportunity to use new money to accelerate the transition away from carbon.

European climate and environmental ministers from 17 nations signed a statement urging governments to “make the E.U.’s recovery a Green Deal,’’ and “to build the bridge between fighting Covid-19, biodiversity loss and climate change.’’

“The pandemic shows us that global problems have immediate national and local impact, and climate change affects us all.”

The argument made by national leaders like Ms. Merkel and Mr. Macron is fairly simple: Use the new money not to restore the old world but to help create the new one.

“Make sure that the investment we make takes us into the new economy,’’ Mr. Timmermans told the European Parliament.

Some issues, though, are less clear, like the future of mass transportation and large apartment complexes, especially in big cities — let alone the future of airlines.

Mr. Macron has tied new funding for Air France-KLM to carbon reduction.

And poorer countries of the south, with higher debts to begin with and less room for more, fear a new inequality as bigger, richer countries like Germany and France can subsidize their industries far more lavishly.

“If a substantial chunk of the budget is for climate spending, that will incentivize them to engage,’’ despite their doubts about energy transition and questions around burden sharing.

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