OPINION: A green, just recovery from COVID will bring jobs and health benefits to cities

by Giuseppe Sala | Mayor of Milan
Wednesday, 28 October 2020 08:00 GMT

Women take a walk at a cosmos field planted in a parking lot, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Goyang, South Korea, September 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

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

If done quickly and decisively, green stimulus could finally put the world on track to keep global heating under 1.5°C

The most significant test of any government’s commitment to climate action right now is where it is directing COVID stimulus funding.

As C40 mayors, today we are launching new research which shows a green and just recovery will create more jobs faster and deliver greater economic and health benefits than a return to business as usual. If done quickly and decisively enough, a green stimulus could finally put the world on track to keep global heating under 1.5°C.  

We are deeply concerned that, to date, only 3-5% of an estimated $12-$15 trillion in international COVID stimulus funding is committed to green initiatives. This means almost all of the current COVID stimulus funding is propping up old and polluting economies and will prevent us from limiting global heating to safe levels.

If governments use stimulus funding to try to return to 'business as usual' before COVID, run-away climate breakdown will be locked in. It is only through a green and just recovery based on the principles of a Global Green New Deal – with a focus on urban priorities such as mass transit, clean energy, energy-efficient buildings, and walking and cycling – that emissions will start to fall.

A major programme of green investment and climate action front-loaded for the next five years is our best chance to halve global emissions by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050. To achieve necessary emissions reductions, stimulus funding not only has to be green, but it has to be big, and made available quickly.

Our recommendations for recovery have the potential to create over 50 million good, sustainable jobs by 2025 across the nearly 100 cities in the C40 network and their supply chains, over a third more than investing equivalent funds into a high-carbon recovery.

Our green and just recovery could reduce air pollution as much as 29% in cities worldwide over the next 10 years, compared to returning to business as usual – which could prevent over 270,000 premature deaths over the next decade and, by reducing habitat destruction, make further pandemics less likely. Improvements in air quality across C40’s member cities alone could lead to over $1.4 billion savings in health costs from reduced hospital admissions, and wider economic benefits of over $280 billion over the next 10 years. 

By ignoring the opportunity to make rapid green stimulus investments, most national governments and global institutions are likely leading us towards catastrophic climate change.

The time for small steps and half measures is over. The global disruption caused by the COVID pandemic may be our last chance to choose a different path. While we commend the efforts of governments to set strong emissions reduction targets, our research shows that current stimulus spending makes achieving those goals impossible.

It’s time for decisive action to tackle COVID and the climate crisis together, as the answer to the threat of global economic and environmental breakdown.

As C40 mayors, our highest priority remains protecting the health and wellbeing of the residents of our cities, who are calling for green and just cities and better, more liveable communities. It’s also on their behalf that we call on national governments, international institutions, businesses and world leaders to take decisive climate action before COP26, by:

  • Immediately delivering a green and just recovery that could put us on track to keep warming under 1.5°C, rather than a return to business as usual that makes runaway climate change almost inevitable.
  • Investing in cities to drive the green and just recovery and the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
  • Ending all public investments in fossil-fuels.
  • Joining us in pledging to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and setting an interim target which reflects a fair share of the 50% global reduction in CO2 by 2030 identified in the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 5°C.
  • Embracing the principles of the Global Green New Deal coalition of mayors, businesses, trade unions, investors, youth activists and civil society to create the future we want.                                                                                                                                                                                   

In the less than four months since the C40 Mayors’ Agenda for a Green and Just Recovery was published, we have made crucial progress, showing what can be achieved when we act quickly, unlock funds and shift to a green and just paradigm.

We have taken bold action in our cities, including the launch of the first city-led Green New Deal in Asia; additional investments worth millions of dollars in zero-emissions mobility; more liveable and affordable housing; new programmes to create thousands of new green jobs; new, permanent walking and cycling lanes; and accelerated planting of new trees.

In addition, 12 cities with 36 million residents are calling on city and pension funds with over US$295 billion in total assets to divest from fossil fuels.

As mayors and representatives of many of the world’s leading cities representing over 700 million people and 25% of GDP worldwide, we know we cannot achieve ambitious climate change goals alone. We are committed to working with every citizen, company, government agency and international institution to deliver real outcomes.

Our collective prize will be returning to a safer and healthier climate, achieving a more equitable economy, and recovering faster from the pandemic.

Authors:

The statement was developed by the C40 Global Mayors Covid-19 Recovery Task Force and signed by Chair of the Task Force Mayor of Milan, Italy, Giuseppe Sala; Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Yvonne Aki Sawyerr; Secretary for the Environment of Hong Kong, China, KS Wong; Mayor of Lisbon, Portugal, Fernando Medina; Mayor of Rotterdam, Netherlands, Ahmed Aboutaleb; Mayor of Medellín, Colombia, Daniel Quintero Calle; Mayor of Montréal, Canada, Valérie Plante; Mayor of New Orleans, USA, LaToya Cantrell; Mayor of Seattle, USA, Jenny Durkan; and Acting Mayor of Seoul, Republic of Korea, Seo Jung-hyup

Download the research or read the statement from the mayors.