The case for a green stimulus
As governments around the world are urged to ‘build back better’, a major focus has been to ensure that their economic recovery packages support environmental objectives. The language varies slightly – green, sustainable, resilient, ‘green and fair’, ‘green and just’, decarbonisation – but the core idea is consistent.
This is that governments should invest and create jobs in sectors and activities which align with long-term greenhouse gas emission goals (notably ‘net zero’ by 2050 or before), improve resilience to climate impacts, slow biodiversity loss, reduce pollution and increase the circularity of resource use.
Analysis of spending programmes of this sort – including those implemented after the financial crash in 2008 – show that green spending tends to have high job creation potential, which can often be geared towards economically disadvantaged people and areas. Many green projects can be delivered relatively quickly.
The UK government's 'green industrial revolution' plan
Looking towards the critical UN climate conference COP26 in Glasgow in November, the UK government published its ‘10-point plan for a green industrial revolution’ at the end of 2020.
It pledges to mobilise £12 billion of government investment, and potentially three times as much from the private sector, to create and support up to 250,000 green jobs.
The ten areas of focus are offshore wind, low carbon hydrogen, nuclear power, zero emission vehicles, green public transport, ‘jet zero’ and green ships, greener buildings, carbon capture, usage and storage, protection of the natural environment and green finance and innovation.
While some aspects of the plan were welcomed by environmental groups, others criticised it for vagueness and for failing to clarify how the UK would achieve its statutory emissions reduction targets, including its commitment to ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050.
Green recovery proposals in the UK
The call for a green recovery has been widely supported in the UK, by businesses, environmental organisations, and think tanks on both left and right.
For some green recovery is a way of rebooting the existing economy. For others it offers a chance for more radical change in the objectives and outcomes of economic policy.
Green recovery plans across the world
Although the focus of most governments in the crisis so far has been keeping businesses and jobs alive, many have included environmental components in their stimulus and recovery plans.
This includes the EU, which has made its ‘Green Deal’ investment programme a centrepiece of its economic ambition and climate goals.
However analysis of plans published so far shows that the overall environmental impact of government plans in most countries is likely to be negative.
Green recovery in the devolved nations
Both the Scottish and Welsh governments have committed to green recoveries. In Northern Ireland a plan has been proposed by a group of environmental NGOs.
Green recovery at city and local level
Many cities around the world have used the Covid crisis to prioritise walking and cycling and the provision of green space.
There is a growing global movement of cities committed to improving the quality of urban life through environmental improvement and decarbonisation, particularly of buildings and transport.
Many local authorities in the UK are looking to pursue a more sustainable form of economic development.