Many see the efforts to contain the economic fallout of the pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate the shift to cleaner energy alternatives, such as solar and wind. Options could include ensuring that economic stimulus programs prioritize investments in cleaner energy, or conditioning assistance to businesses, especially in carbon-intensive sectors, on drastic cuts in emissions. Similarly, financial industry bailouts could require banks to invest less in fossil fuel fuels and more in climate change mitigation and resilience efforts.
In the U.S., congressional Democrats pushed for such measures when negotiating the recent stimulus package. In response, President Trump threatened a veto, tweeting “This is not about the ridiculous Green New Deal.” The proposed measures did not survive, though Democrats did manage to block $3 billion that Republicans sought to buy up oil for the strategic reserve.
In Europe, the prospects for green stimulus are more promising. In response to one European leader’s call to abandon climate measures, an EU spokesperson was categorical: “While our immediate focus is on combating Covid-19, our work on delivering the European Green Deal continues. The climate crisis is still a reality and necessitates our continued attention and efforts.”
The struggle to ensure that human rights protections and climate commitments are not Covid-19 collateral will continue in the US, the EU and elsewhere as governments face the task of restarting their economies in the weeks and months to come. The outcome will define our capacity and will to mitigate what threatens to be a global catastrophe far greater even than the viral pandemic.