In an article for Project Syndicate, entitled “A Sustainable Recovery Must Be More Than Green” I argue that climate action needs to be closely tied to the urgent need to protect jobs and livelihoods. Otherwise, it risks becoming yet another casualty of COVID-19.
The narrative will need to shift from “green recovery” to “sustainable recovery,” a broader concept that puts people’s welfare front and centre. After all, climate action is just one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and it is not for nothing that people come first in the “triple bottom line” accounting framework of people, planet, and profits.
To be truly sustainable – both politically and economically – recovery policies will need the support of business and society alike. Achieving such broad buy-in will not be easy in societies that are already highly polarized politically (between left and right) and culturally (between “open” and “closed”).
Here, the US will be the critical battleground. If the Democrats take power in November and pursue highly progressive policies, they might jeopardize the growing support for climate action among moderate Republicans. If they fail to design policies with true sustainability in mind, they could set the stage for another backlash from the populist right.
The article discusses a full spectrum policy shift to balance the green gains from investment and subsidies against the political pains from taxes and regulation. The pandemic presents policy makers with a window of opportunity for this shift. Aside from the need to boost investment to revive the economy, government financial support to gives them greater leverage over the priorities of embattled businesses. Moreover, low energy prices and falling technology costs could facilitate a radical shift in the tax burden towards carbon and digital and away from labour.