OPINION: Our chance for a just recovery after coronavirus

by May Boeve | 350.org
Thursday, 26 March 2020 15:15 GMT

People stand apart from each other as they wait in line outside Whole Foods after California issued a stay-at-home order due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Santa Monica, California, U.S., March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As policymakers respond to the pandemic and its fallout, they must also tackle the interrelated crises of wealth inequality, racism and ecological decline

When everything changes, change everything: The COVID-19 pandemic demands swift and unprecedented action from national governments and the international community. The choices being made right now will shape our society for years, if not decades to come.

As policymakers take steps to ensure immediate relief and long-term recovery, it is imperative that they consider the interrelated crises of wealth inequality, racism, and ecological decline - notably the climate crisis - which were in place long before COVID-19, and now risk being intensified.  

The government bailouts that are happening across the world, including in the U.S. must prioritize the lives of ordinary people. Unfortunately, so far, the loudest voices have been industry lobbyists and corporate interests. For the long-term project of rebuilding our economies, we demand a response that ensures massive economic stimulus packages are used to build fairer, more resilient, and sustainable systems and economies.

Some of the corporations most complicit in hurting ordinary people will need financial support, be it bailouts, loans or nationalisations. For banks, energy, and transport companies, this support from the state - that is, from the people - must be conditional on a change in how they do business. The banks cannot return to financing the climate crisis; the energy companies cannot continue to expand extraction; and the airline industry cannot continue to ignore a carbon transition while operating with unfair labor practices.

Today over 250 organisations are calling on governments to embrace a global response to COVID-19 that embodies 5 principles for a just recovery

As a global community we need to be decisive in saving lives and bold in charting a path to a genuinely healthier and more equitable future through a just recovery. While now is the time for solidarity and stopping the worst effects of the virus, we must also look forward to supporting progressive policy-making and embracing principles that provide both relief and stimulus.

Health is a top priority for all people everywhere, with no exceptions. COVID-19 has thrown healthcare under the spotlight and compounds the vital need for free and accessible health services for all. Access to quality healthcare should never depend on where you live, how much money you have, or your race, gender or age. It is a fundamental human right.

Economic relief needs to be directed to the people. We need to expand the social safety net by bringing in measures such as a universal basic income, increasing food aid programs, extending housing assistance, expanding childcare for working families, relieving student debt, and halting evictions, foreclosures and water and electricity shut offs. As with expanded public health measures, these economic measures must be implemented to ensure they cover workers and communities likely to be hit first and worst by COVID-19 and the economic downturn.

Any financial assistance directed at specific industries must be channeled to workers, not shareholders or corporate executives. Specifically, any government loans must be used to maintain payroll and benefits, not executive bonuses or stock buybacks. Corporations that are exacerbating the climate crisis cannot be bailed out.

A passenger carries his load before boarding a disinfected public transport bus as residents leave for the villages amid concerns over the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in downtown Nairobi, Kenya March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

CLIMATE-RESILIENT COMMUNITIES

As with the coronavirus, the climate crisis is also an epidemic, impacting millions around the world. It comes on top of a climate and environmental emergency which governments are not doing enough to tackle. Governments must put climate action and resilience at the core of these longer-term economic stimulus packages to create resilient and sustainable communities. 

That means expanding community-led wind and solar power, creating millions of jobs in building a green future, developing  clean and affordable public transit, fast tracking the roll out of energy efficiency measures, manufacturing clean energy goods, restoring natural systems such as wetlands and forests and  expanding public services that support climate resilience.

Critically, stimulus packages should include conditions for industries to implement high-road labor standards, workforce development, and reductions in climate-heating emissions and toxic pollution. The response to one existential crisis must not fuel another.

This is a global crisis and the response must also be global - we need to build solidarity and community across borders. We cannot leave the tens of thousands of people who are seeking protection and are stuck in overcrowded refugee camps behind. We must ensure technology is transferable, remove debts and free up finance to lower-income countries and communities to allow them to respond effectively to the spread of the virus.

Many governments have introduced lockdown measures and while it is imperative that the populations of countries adhere to the medical and scientific advice, this is not an excuse to trample on human rights, civil liberties, and democracy. People must not be forced to choose between exercising their rights as citizens and protecting public health.

Over the coming months, the world as we know it will undergo some big shifts. Many of us will be faced with illness, worry, anxiousness, and the thought or reality of losing loved ones. It is an unprecedented situation.

There is a lot of fear in this moment but there is also a huge outpouring of community, empathy and solidarity.  Like the climate crisis, the only way to fight this virus is to come together to confront it head-on as one, united global community