14 Apr 2020, 14:30
Benjamin Wehrmann

Germany's national academy of sciences stresses need for climate-friendly coronavirus recovery

Clean Energy Wire

In a bid to allow a return to regular social life and economic activity amid the coronavirus outbreak, Germany's national academy of sciences, the Leopoldina, has published a report recommending a gradual reopening of public and private institutions that emphasises the need for sustainable development and climate action. "Basic civilizational challenges, especially climate action, species conservation and international cooperation, remain unchanged regardless of the coronavirus crisis and need to be addressed," said the academy's panel, which consists of more than 30 experts in health sciences, economics, law, biology, education and other disciplines. Prior to its publication, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the academy's expert opinion would provide important guidance for the government's decision-making.

The Leopoldina panel recommended that, beyond immediate economic relief for struggling businesses, long-term responses to the corona crisis had to factor in "measures that rest on broad scientific evidence and political-societal consensus" and contribute to ecological and social sustainability and resilience. These should by no means be weakened, but rather "continue to be implemented with high priority or even be reinforced." Economic stimulus packages to facilitate long-term recovery should therefore be generally consistent with the aims of the European Green Deal, the scientists said, adding that any response would require "the highest degree of European solidarity" to be effective. The Leopoldina experts added that a mere return to the status quo ante is not an option as far as climate and biodiversity challenges are concerned, not least because the risk of dangerous pandemics is exacerbated by environmental degradation caused by population growth, urbanisation, land use and climate change.

"State intervention to resuscitate economic activity after the pandemic has subsided should therefore put sustainability centre stage," the Leopoldina panel argued, adding that "wasting the opportunity" to bolster more sustainable procedures, for example in the energy sector, mobility or agriculture, in the wake of the crisis would only lead to an "extremely difficult" change of course later on. "Seizing this historic opportunity is a responsibility for those in charge that can hardly be overstated," the experts said. Important steps in this regard would be an "immediate" introduction of a price on fossil CO2 and the implementation of a national hydrogen strategy "as soon as possible."

The scientists called for a transparent debate about the costs that will arise from a sustainable stimulus programme which takes the "massive external costs of climate, environmental and resulting health damages into account." However, they also stressed that a more sustainable approach would bear "enormous potential" for economic development that could only be tapped into by resolute action early on. 

As in most other European countries, social life and economic activity have largely ground to a halt in Germany since mid-March in a bid to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and protect the national healthcare system from collapse. The government has signalled it will draw up a substantial stimulus package to reignite economic activity after the threat posed by the pandemic has abated, and economists, climate activists and others have been quick to caution that climate action and other environmental concerns must not fall victim to recovery measures. The International Energy Agency (IEA) said the crisis posed a golden opportunity to leapfrog decarbonisation developments. According to think tank Agora Energiewende, a "green" stimulus package worth 100 billion euros could help reconcile economic recovery with climate action and bring about important progress across all sectors of the economy.


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