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OPINION: Post virus, let's rebuild climate-smart, healthier and equitably

by Giuseppe Sala | @BeppeSala | Mayor of Milan
Thursday, 16 April 2020 10:09 GMT

Mayor of Milan Giuseppe Sala addresses the media after a ceremony to draw an Italian flag to half mast as mayors across Italy stand in silence to honour the country's dead due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Milan, Italy, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo

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

As hard-hit cities recover from the coronavirus pandemic, stimulus spending needs to ensure we shift to a more sustainable path

Giuseppe Sala is the Mayor of Milan.

As the people of Milan enter our sixth week of lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our thoughts and prayers are with all those across our city, nation and around the world that are suffering.

We mourn the lives lost too soon. We honour the bravery and selfless dedication of the health workers and all those working tirelessly to keep us safe. We thank everyone helping to reduce the impact of this crisis by staying at home and respecting the public health measures currently in place.

In particular, I would like to thank my fellow Milanese citizens for the commitment they have shown over Easter weekend, with 95% of road checks by the police resulting in legitimate reasons to move around the city. 

At this moment of profound disruption for everyone in Milan and billions of people around the world, the future beyond the current pandemic response seems far away and impossible to predict. Yet it is the very scale of the crisis and its profound global implications that demand our attention, compelling us to consider the world we want to build as we recover.

As mayor my highest priority is protecting the health, security and well-being of the people of Milan. Today that means doing everything possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and in particular protecting the most vulnerable in our communities. In the longer-term, it means ensuring an economic recovery that improves public health, reduces inequality and accelerates climate action.  

As we have all learned from the COVID-19 outbreak, the sooner we act, the more prepared we can be to respond effectively in times of crisis. Therefore, this week I have invited a group of my fellow mayors to join me in establishing a global task force to help deliver a sustainable and equitable economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

The Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, administered by C40 Cities - a network of more than 90 major global cities committed to urgent action on climate change - will bring together economists, sustainability experts and city leaders from every part of the world. By working together, we will harness the incredible power and energy of the world’s leading cities to shape a different future, one that addresses the overlapping challenges of COVID-19, inequality and climate change.  

In the coming weeks and months, huge sums of money will be pumped into the global economy to help individuals, businesses, cities and nations recover from the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. If designed properly using shared knowledge and expertise from cities across the globe, these stimulus packages can foster resilience within our economic and financial systems, while also creating truly sustainable means of protecting public health, reducing inequality, and preserving the global ecosystems we all depend on.

As well as acting in our cities to deliver a green recovery, the Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force will call for stimulus packages to be shaped by the needs of people, and not to re-boot fossil fuel industries.  

The natural reflex once the immediate public health crisis passes may be to do everything possible to restore the way things were before COVID-19. Yet the scientific evidence has been clear for many years now that the global economic status quo is unsustainable.

The accelerating climate crisis and rising levels of inequality within our societies pose very real threats to our long-term security, prosperity and public health. Environmental degradation increases the chances of future pandemics. Polluted air causes respiratory problems that make people more vulnerable to disease. Rising sea levels, and climate related disasters pose a serious danger to cities around the world.  

During times of crisis, it is always the most vulnerable in society that bear the heaviest burden. This is precisely why the strong leadership from mayors and cities worldwide, to shape the future we want in the aftermath of the pandemic - a future that works for everyone.  

We are already seeing glimpses of hope for a new reality that could emerge from the current turmoil. People in cities across the world have come together to care for the most vulnerable. The generous response to the Milan Mutual Aid Fund I set up to support people in economic difficulty has been heartwarming.

Around the world, city governments are stepping in to provide the shelter, food and essentials that people need. In Europe, we ask for direct funding to be made available to cities, so that they can swiftly respond to their citizens’ needs. 

To deliver the future we want, global collaboration is essential. Just as cities across the world have been collaborating in recent years to address the climate crisis, today they are shaping the local and international response to COVID-19 by working together.

Just last month I addressed a virtual meeting of 45 mayors and city leaders from 30 countries to share Milan’s experience of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our teams remain in regular contact with experts from cities across Europe and around the world, to exchange knowledge and identify solutions.  

I am inspired every day by the determination and generosity of the Milanese people, acting together to protect our most vulnerable residents. That spirit of collective resolve is now on display across Italy, Europe and in cities from Australia to South Africa, America to Brazil. It is hugely powerful and if nurtured and mobilised, it will fundamentally re-shape the future of our shared planet. 

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