We are witnessing a convergence of crises. The world is facing an unprecedented scale of human devastation from COVID-19 and communities are at risk of widespread destitution. The loss of lives is heart-breaking. The economic crisis has caused widespread hardship and uncertainty as swaths of the global workforce face unemployment, loss of income and mass workplace closures. This can only multiply global inequality, writes International Trade Union Confederation General Secretary and Global Commission on the Economy and Climate member Sharan Burrow.
Meanwhile, the global climate crisis has not gone away. The immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic only increase the urgency for climate action. Be it climate or COVID, the pandemic has laid bare how ill prepared we are to manage major risks, and how existing vulnerabilities and inequalities can be exacerbated by a crisis.
In our efforts to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, we cannot afford to ignore the major threat posed by climate change. We must integrate recovery strategies that generate infrastructure, invest in care and jobs that are also part of the climate solution. Bailing out high carbon industries or investing in fossil fuel production risks the very survival of the human race. We can and must tackle both together, in order to save lives and protect workers.
The first wave of government action is necessarily focused on addressing the immediate impacts of COVID-19, stopping its spread and helping those affected by the virus or unemployment. This alone is a huge task. Many countries are struggling to support impacted workers and communities. One of the missing pieces is a global social protection fund for the poorest of countries. It would take just $37 billion for five years to build resilience for all people in the Least Developed Countries.
The next waves of government response are focused on how to boost growth. In doing so, we must ensure that as the UN Secretary General says we ‘build back better’. Governments and multilateral development institutions will be investing trillions of dollars to address the crisis and reflate economies.
This is a once in a generation moment to accelerate the transition to a more resilient growth model.
The way through this crisis begins first with committing to a new social contract, and second with ensuring that the development pathways we set for our futures are more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient.
First, the new world must be defined by a new social contract. The old social contract is unsustainable, unjust, and has drastically exacerbated impacts of the pandemic. Support for workers and businesses who are committed to rights and sustainability is imperative.
According to International Trade Union Confederation, many countries including Canada and New Zealand have shown commendable leadership in centering people in their crisis response. Now these gains must be maintained, and where there were exclusions, they must be resolved.
It’s time for many more governments to step up. The COVID-19 crisis is expected to wipe out up 300 million jobs in the second quarter of 2020. The IMF’s World Economic Outlook projects a 3% decline in global output, the worst since the 1930’s Great Depression.
The world needs to come together to establish universal social protection for all, to help vulnerable communities overcome this devastation and emerge stronger. We are all in this together.
Second, recovery efforts must mainstream twenty-first century approaches to how we produce, consume and live. These approaches must be more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient, and we must seek and prioritize them in economic recovery packages.
Low carbon investments make more sense than ever. Given rising global unemployment, such investments could boost jobs and generate strong economic returns. Bold climate action could deliver immediate social and economic benefits, including 65 million new low-carbon jobs in 2030.
Recent research shows that green COVID-19 recovery packages, which cut greenhouse gas emissions and stimulate economic growth, deliver higher returns than conventional stimulus spending.
Only one-sixth of countries prioritized green measures in stimulus packages during the global 2008 financial crisis. Those that did provide ample examples of positive results. The United States invested a record amount in clean energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which supported 900,000 clean energy job years from 2009 to 2015. Findings suggest US investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and public transportation double jobs per dollar compared to traditional alternatives. In its recovery from the financial crisis, the Republic of Korea spent the highest proportion of its stimulus on green measures globally (about 69%), and rebounded faster than most OECD countries.
More recently, despite their government’s lamentable attack on labour laws and the minimum wage, Indonesia’s Low Carbon Development Initiative (LCDI) established clear evidence of the immediate benefits of a sustainable growth path through ambitious climate action. These benefits include higher employment, faster poverty alleviation, higher GDP growth, and better air quality.
The European Council has also moved swiftly to ensure that a green transition is central to the European Union’s economic response to COVID-19, building on the EU Green Deal announced in December 2019.
This is the sort of action we hope G20 finance ministers meant when they called for a recovery that achieves “strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth” at their meeting last month. But it will take global coherence to ensure we see climate and employment ambition realised.
Instead of propping up already declining industries, we need to ensure a just transition and measures to reset our economic trajectory to help us build back better. Now more than ever, the path to a strong and inclusive recovery runs through uplifting the voices of workers, trade unions, and affected communities, and ensuring their protection.
This is the time to lay the foundation for a new social contract built on just working conditions and sustainable economic growth. With urgent, collaborative action, we can emerge from this crisis more resilient than ever.