Is a green recovery from coronavirus likely to happen?

Paula Daina

The idea of a green recovery from Covid-19 is gaining momentum. The European Union reached an agreement on a 750 billion euros (£680 billion) plan for the recovery with green strings attached to 30% of it. Part of the recovery strategy is based on the European Green Deal and it aims at accelerating climate neutrality in European states by promoting renewable energy, electric vehicles and new building projects. From a more global perspective, the United Nations Secretary-General A. Guterres claims that there is a strong need to look at the virus as an opportunity to move significant steps towards a green economy.

On a similar line, many businesses have pledged to build back better after Covid. Last month, over 200 businesses took part in a virtual meeting to outline their plans to deliver a green coronavirus recovery, committing themselves to work with governments and accelerate progress on sustainability issues. Among the companies were the likes of consumer goods giants Unilever and Sainsbury’s. Elsewhere, over 200 Dutch businesses have created a coalition to promote a green recovery from Covid-19 at a national and European level. Among the companies lobbying the Dutch government to support “building back better” are big names like banking group ING, which has pledged to a green strategy including the recognition of the EU Green Deal as fundamental part of the recovery plan.

However, as it emerges from a recent research conducted by think tank InfluenceMap, green recovery plans risk being derailed by lobbyists. In fact, carbon-intensive companies are using the need for economies to recover quickly as an opportunity to lobby governments for financial support and regulatory gains. Clearly, this could have enormous consequences in climate change mitigation. The report by InfluenceMap found that this year, oil and gas companies made 31 policy interventions – and 64 per cent of these were successful. In 2018, multinational oil and gas company BP donated $13 million to a campaign aimed at stopping a carbon tax in the Washington state. Implementing the carbon tax would have meant investing in low-carbon infrastructure and green jobs, among other benefits.

InfluenceMap analyst Danny Margill thinks that “research shows lobbyists representing fossil-fuel-related companies have geared up to oppose Paris aligned climate policy amid the Covid-19 crisis”. Given the urgency to act upon the potential effects of climate change, the approach adopted by fossil-fuel companies appears short-sighted and in contradiction with the push towards a low carbon economy that would avoid the worst effects of climate change. What is more, studies examine that investing in renewable energy delivers significantly better returns than fossil fuels. For example, it was analysed that in Germany and France, over a five-year period, renewable investments generated 178 per cent more returns compared with -20,7 per cent from fossil fuels.

So, this is the perfect time for responsible long-term thinking. The coronavirus emergency is a great opportunity for companies to change their trajectory and fully incorporate long-term thinking, both on the environment and bottom lines, into decision-making. It is crucial now for companies to get behind the movement to build back better.

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