After the Covid-19 Pandemic: Visions for Economic Recovery

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated communities and economies around the world through the global decline in demand, disruptions in value chains and a deterioration in financial conditions.

Governments around the world are taking measures to cope with the economic damage. The most frequently mentioned way to do this is sustainability and environmental protection. According to Angel Gurría, Secretary General of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), “governments have a unique chance for a green and inclusive recovery that they must seize – a recovery that not only provides income and jobs, but also has broader well-being goals at its core, integrates strong climate and biodiversity action, and builds resilience”. In his opinion, stimulus packages need to be aligned with ambitious policies to tackle climate change and environmental damage. “Only such an approach can deliver win-win-win policies for people, planet and prosperity.”

The European Union is on the same page. In May, the European Commission presented in European Parliament a 750 billion Euro economic stimulus plan that – along with a revised proposal for the EU‘s 2021-2027 budget amounting to 1.1 trillion Euro – should help mitigate the shock from the coronavirus pandemic and pave the way for a sustainable future. Part of this solution is the Next Generation EU recovery plan that aims to address the damage caused by the pandemic and invest in a green, digital, social and more resilient EU. “Under the proposal, the Commission would borrow the money on the financial markets using its high credit rating, which should secure low borrowing costs,” the information provided by the Parliament said. 500 billion Euro would be distributed in grants. Intention is that the funds will be used to reach the EU’s objectives of climate neutrality and digital transformation, to offer social and employment support as well as to reinforce the EU’s role as a global player.

The proposals are subject to negotiations between the Parliament and the Member States in the Council.

Plea for the “Green Deal”
If the European Member States accept the suggestions, the three associations representing waste management and recycling industries at European level – EuRIC (European Recycling Industries Confederation), FEAD (European Federation of Waste Management and Environmental Services) and CEWEP (Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants) – will have achieved an important aim. In May, the organizations had issued a joint call to put the Green Deal and the new Circular Economy Action Plan at the forefront of the post Covid-19 recovery in the EU.

The association representatives stressed – in a statement issued together with the joint call – the key role played by Europe’s recycling industry in turning waste into valuable raw materials while saving greenhouse gas emissions and energy. Not only for EuRIC President Cinzia Vezzosi, it is vital to use the momentum of the post Covid-19 crisis to direct a significant part of massive public investments towards circular industrial value chains and infrastructures needed to make Europe climate-neutral by 2050. In that respect, the joint call highlights the importance of prioritizing certain measures aiming at:

  • Stimulating the demand for secondary raw materials through incentives, their greenhouse gas emissions and energy savings, recycled content targets and green public procurement to bridge circular economy and climate policy;
  • Further strengthening the internal market and, in particular, fasten the creation of a well-functioning EU market for secondary raw materials thanks to simplified waste shipment procedures and EU-wide end-of-waste criteria;
  • Speeding up work on eco-design to ensure that tomorrow’s products will last longer and be easier to recycle when reaching end-of-life;
  • Enhancing investment certainty by implementing current recycling targets and resuming a fact-based discussion on proper treatment of unrecyclable waste in Europe, through energy-recovery or final disposal.

US Businesses wish a resilient and sustainable economy
Also in the USA, major companies stand up for a more sustainable economy after the Covid-19 crisis. According to Ceres – a sustainability nonprofit organization working with the most influential investors and companies – CEOs and representatives from more than 330 businesses called in May on “a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers to build back a better economy by infusing resilient, long-term climate solutions into future economic recovery plans.” Amid the backdrop of Covid-19 and the full recognition that the safety, health and well-being of all citizens is the most immediate priority, ‘LEAD on Climate 2020’ was the largest ever call to action from the business community to the US Congress on the ongoing climate crisis, Ceres said. Specifically, the businesses advocate for:

  • An accelerated transition to a net-zero emissions economy by 2050 or sooner;
  • More investment in resilient infrastructure;
  • Effective climate solutions – including those that fully leverage the job opportunities of zero-carbon industries;
  • Support for longer-term, market-wide policy mechanisms such as a price on carbon.

As reported, the participating businesses include more than a dozen Fortune 500 firms as well as trade associations, medium and small businesses from all 50 states, collectively representing combined annual revenues of more than one trillion US-Dollar in revenue, a combined market valuation of nearly 11.5 trillion US-Dollar and more than three million employees in the USA. “The companies and investors calling for climate action as part of economic recovery efforts span across the American economy, including retailers, manufacturers, healthcare services, food and beverage companies, outdoors industries, technology companies and energy providers,” Ceres stressed. “The high level of participation is notable given the disruption most of the companies and investors are experiencing due to the economic collapse, as well as the current social distancing constraints on in-person advocacy.” This increased corporate and investor policy engagement comes at a time when the consequences of the climate crisis have never been clearer or more dire, Ceres stated. Last year, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were at their highest levels in at least the last 800,000 years, and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently found that the last decade was the hottest on record. “As US and global emissions have steadily grown over the years, so has corporate and investor ambition to reduce emissions – even amidst the current pandemic.”

(GR22020, Page 4, Photo: Marc Weigert)