Coronavirus: Governments should focus on 'green recovery', Dubai Future Foundation says

Global CO2 emissions are set to decline 8% in 2020 but environmental improvements will be temporary as economies reopen

A child jumps in Ilha da Salvacao river, at the riverside community Galileia, as healthcare workers visit riverside communities to check on residents during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in the municipality of Melgaco, at Marajo island, Para state, Brazil, June 4, 2020. Picture taken June 4, 2020. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
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Governments should take advantage of an opportunity to address climate change by steering stimulus funding toward initiatives that simultaneously boost economies and address greenhouse gas emissions, the Dubai Future Foundation said in a new report.

"Governments are unlikely to have another such opportunity to direct this scale of funding into climate action," the foundation said. "Decisions we make in emerging from this crisis will significantly impact our future, with long-lasting effects on our economies."

The Covid-19 pandemic has temporarily improved the world's emissions and air quality, while plunging the global economy into a recession.

Global carbon dioxide emissions are set to decline 8 per cent in 2020, and in Abu Dhabi, there has been a 62 per cent reduction in nitrogen dioxide levels, a marker of air quality, during the pandemic.

The global economy is facing historic contraction and job losses as a result of what the International Monetary Fund dubbed "The Great Shutdown" as it downgraded its forecast last week. The IMF said the global economy will contract by 4.9 per cent this year, and expects "a slower recovery" in 2021.

The foundation said governments in the Middle East and North Africa are "well positioned" to make more aggressive climate commitments with renewables becoming the lowest-cost source of power generation.

As part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries are required to submit climate action plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs. "As countries prepare to submit their second round of NDCs in 2020, they should take advantage of reduced costs and Covid-19 economic stimulus measures to provide more aggressive commitments than previously planned," the foundation said.

It also recommended expanding investments in data science after widespread information sharing allowed countries to allocate healthcare resources where needed, and roll out contact-tracing apps to manage the spread of the virus. Similarly, overcoming climate change will require more accurate data, DFF said, allowing countries to identify emissions hotspots and verify proposed reductions with higher accuracy.

Justin Bishop, a senior transport consultant at Arup, is researching ways to maintain air quality improvements witnessed during the pandemic. He told The National the consultancy has seen an uptake in interest from existing clients and expects it to be a focus as recovery picks up.

"Beyond the statistics and findings, the lockdowns have brought air quality right back up the list of public priorities," he said in a recent report. "With air pollution a co-factor for patients suffering from Covid-19 itself, the issue couldn't be any more material."

He agrees with DFF that better data capture is key to maintaining improvements and adds that he is "hopeful" progress can be made emerging from the pandemic.

The foundation's report said Europe is focusing on a "green recovery" from the pandemic.

The European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, recently rolled out a €750 billion (Dh3 trillion) stimulus package that puts combatting climate change at the centre of the bloc’s recovery. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been emphasising the need to focus on climate protection when considering Covid-19 stimulus packages, and Iceland has included funding for projects tackling climate change in its second coronavirus economic stimulus package.

The private sector is also mobilising for a recovery that prioritises some level of climate action. A group of 155 companies, worth a combined $2.4tn in market capitalisation, urged policymakers for a recovery response which is “grounded in bold climate action”.

The World Bank found that Mena is one of the most vulnerable places to the consequences of rising temperatures. In Egypt, for example, Alexandria, a city of 5 million people, is sinking. In Morocco, a drought in 2015 led to the loss of more than half of the wheat harvest and a 1.5 per cent drop in the country’s GDP.