Australia, England & Wales, Global, Ireland, Scotland Climate action and sustainable development, Covid-19, Health and social care

Covid-19: Tilting the playing field towards a green and fair recovery

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

Kim Fellows highlights the link between public health and climate change, and reflects on a virtual All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting focused on Green Recovery that she attended last week.

I was lucky enough to hear Sir David King, Sir Michael Marmot, Mariana Muzzacato and Tim Jackson speak at a virtual All-Party Parliamentary Group (virtual) meeting last week. It was the kind of session that before you wonder if you have time, but afterwards you thank your lucky stars you attended.

Michael Marmot, as you would expect from a leading thinker on health inequality, talked about health. He noted that the pandemic has reminded us that “you are only as healthy as your neighbour” and stressed the importance of government investment in public health and climate mitigation/adaptation as we come out of the immediate pandemic threat. Marmot went on to say – in response to a question – that he predicted places like Hong Kong and South Korea would survive the pandemic well, not because they are small but because of the types of society they are, with strong values to protect the elderly and low levels of inequality. Hong Kong for example has had zero care home deaths so far. In comparison, countries such as Brazil and the USA have had far greater casualties, partly, he observed, owing to the already high rates of so called ‘deaths of despair’, the fault lines of which Covid-19 has exposed in dramatic fashion. We recently covered 10 years since the Marmot review.

David King spoke about the value of ecosystems, stating that climate change is the biggest threat to human health that we have ever had to face. In his words, it is now more important than ever to ensure in economic terms that society is the economy. He was clear that a post-pandemic recovery cannot happen at the expense of ecosystems; rather the natural world must underpin a successful economy. King expressed his horror at the UK’s failure to properly implement a testing and tracing programme and noted that, in his view, the contribution of GPs has been overlooked in the country’s response so far.

Tim Jackson, an economist who wrote Prosperity without Growth, talked about the need for green jobs, jobs in wind farms, solar farms and other low carbon industries. However, he also then spoke about the idea of a “double dividend”, explaining that, while we do need those traditional green jobs, it is important to recognise the broader spectrum of important green jobs. If we as a society are serious about a fair and equitable future – that includes tacking climate change – then the jobs are right there under our noses in the form of what are now termed ‘key workers’. In shops, on farms, in care homes, social work, community-based support and collecting refuse – these are the people who feed us, take care of us and keep us safe. If funding is given to support those types of jobs, alongside employment that supports other green jobs, then they are low carbon investments in every sense.

Jackson explained that perhaps we could think of a “triple dividend” that supports those local jobs that are able to keep local communities in employment, close to home and avoid the worst of the excesses we lived through in the 1980s employment crisis. Jackson pointed out that local councils are best placed to tap into that local resource and opportunity. Marmot and others agreed with this view and Marmot went on to remind us of the toll on young people in the 1980s with high levels of suicides, poor mental health and the North-South divide that haunts us to this day. The panel agreed on the need for jobs that give people purpose and treat communities with compassion.

Marianna Muzzacato, author of “The Value of Everything”, then went on to talk about the need for a purposeful and value-driven recovery. She urged everyone to understand that lessons need to be learned from the 2008 financial crash where bailout money was pooled back into the finance sector. This, in her view, cannot happen again and she advocated for a “value chain” bail out and recovery that builds capacity in the system in order to build a fairer future for all. If we are serious about supporting a fairer zero-carbon future, she stated, we cannot bail out tax avoiding companies and carbon heavy industries. In order to develop an eco-civilization, or in her words a “green revolution” approach to a fair and green recovery, society must, with purpose and dedication, think differently. It is time to redefine what success looks like and to put the wellbeing of people and the planet at the heart of recovery.

All speakers agreed that this recovery is a once in a lifetime opportunity to put our money where our mouth is, to support and redefine recovery, tilt the playing field towards local jobs for local people and redirect the entire economy to a zero-carbon future not shareholder value.

With the Committee on Climate Change recommendations in my mind, I ask, who is better placed than local government, working at the heart of communities to make this happen? Councils in partnership with private and third sectors are key actors. I think developing a fair and green recovery is an idea whose time has come, because if not now then it will be too late.

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