The global economic slowdown caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic has already had marked impacts on ecosystems around the world. ELEVATION has previously reported on the significant declines in air pollution and dangerous particulate matter in major metropolitan areas from Los Angeles to Delhi. Sharp decreases in air travel, automobile use, and fossil fuel burning have not only provided city-dwellers with clearer views of the mountains and oceans, they have improved public health conditions for many millions. One report estimates that the temporary quarantine measures in China’s Hubei province alone may have prevented over 70,000 premature deaths.
Governments around the world are now tasked with restarting industry and commerce and recovering from the vast economic damage that has already been caused by lockdown protocols. Environmentalists, however, are concerned that massive stimulus plans to revive economies will push climate concerns to the back of the line. Major international climate talks have already been postponed. China approved more new coal-fired power plants in March of this year than it did in all of 2019. And on March 31, the Trump Administration announced a significant loosening of emissions standards for automobiles in the USA. The President asserts that the changes will boost the economy and provide relief to consumers. However, critics argue that the new rules will add 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over the coming years, “and that consumers will end up losing money by buying about 80 billion more gallons of gas.”
Calls for a green economic recovery
So environmental advocates are calling for the “greening” of economic recovery efforts in the United States and around the world. A prominent group of American economists, academics, and scientists recently published a $2 trillion Green Stimulus proposal that would create millions of jobs, lifts standards of living, and reduce fossil fuel usage. The stimulus would automatically renew each year, providing annual funding for green economic initiatives equal to 4% of US GDP.
Moreover, in his April 22 Earth Day address, UN Secretary-General António Guterres proposed six climate-focused recovery principles:
- As we spend huge amounts of money to recover from the coronavirus, we must deliver new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition.
- Where taxpayers’ money is used to rescue businesses, it needs to be tied to achieving green jobs and sustainable growth.
- Fiscal firepower must drive a shift from the grey to green economy, and make societies and people more resilient.
- Public funds should be used to invest in the future, not the past, and flow to sustainable sectors and projects that help the environment and the climate. Fossil fuel subsidies must end, and polluters must start paying for their pollution.
- Climate risks and opportunities must be incorporated into the financial system as well as all aspects of public policy making and infrastructure.
- We need to work together as an international community.
The 10 Billion Trees Tsunami in Pakistan
And, in an encouraging development, the nation of Pakistan has recently taken a significant step to clean-up its economic recovery plans. In the past month, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has hired tens of thousands of unemployed laborers to plant trees. As part of the country’s “10 Billion Trees Tsunami” program, these “jungle workers” will earn a modest daily wage for “setting up nurseries, planting saplings, and serving as forest protection guards or forest firefighters.” The five-year initiative has already planted 30 million indigenous saplings in the Punjab province alone.
This tragic crisis provided an opportunity and we grabbed it… Nurturing nature has come to the economic rescue of thousands of people.Malik Amin Aslam, climate change adviser to Prime Minister Khan
The 10 Billion Trees Tsunami program is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s official efforts to counter rising temperatures and the increasing prevalence of floods and drought within its borders. Although Pakistan generates only a small share of the world’s air pollution, it is ranked fifth among countries that have been negatively impacted by climate change over the past 22 years. It has experienced more than 150 extreme weather events during that period of time.