Post-Pandemic Economic Recovery Threatens the Environment

Despite Pleas For a Sustainable Economic Reactivation After the COVID-19 Pandemic, We Continue To Approach the Point Of No Return.

Industrial machinery

Different environmental organizations around the world foresaw the risk that the economic reactivation could mean for the environment. Photo: Unsplash

LatinAmerican Post | Vanesa López Romero

Listen to this article

Leer en español: La reactivación económica postpandemia amenaza el medio ambiente

At some point, we believed that the COVID-19 pandemic would result in something good for the environment. With strict quarantines around the world, the largest cities froze and there was no choice but to stay at home which resulted in some environmental recovery. But the four months of strict quarantines were not enough, and despite the fact that, according to data from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), greenhouse gas emissions fell, the return to daily life implied even greater damage to the environment. 

A Sustainable Reactivation

Different environmental organizations around the world foresaw the risk that economic reactivation could mean for the environment. With this in mind, and aligning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, leaders of countries around the world and the international community were urged to generate a sustainable recovery plan based on a circular economy. But nothing transpired from this. 

Talking about economic reactivation is practically impossible if we sit down for a moment to review how feasible it is for countries to change in less than a year their economic systems that have historically used and depleted natural resources.

Also read: Opinion: The Oil Industry Lobby is the Cancer of Our Time

Actions can be put on paper, but if we have learned anything from, for example, the Paris Agreement, it is that no matter how much action is written on paper and signed by hundreds of leaders, that action will never take shape if it is not put into practice. The problem is that, for this, you have to go through bureaucratic processes that are slow and clumsy. It was more than evident that we would not achieve the long-awaited sustainable economic reactivation.

What Is the Danger Of Economic Reactivation?

Speaking of danger is a bit naive, as "danger" implies that there is a possibility that something bad will happen. We are currently beyond danger, we are living the consequences of an unhealthy environment. But if we are going to speak in practical terms, basically what happens is that the reactivation implies an acceleration of industrial processes to recover the time and profits that were lost during the quarantines that stopped all activity for much of 2020.

So while we saw a reduction in greenhouse gases and less air pollution in 2020 because there was literally no one on the streets, the pollution from hospital waste left behind by COVID-19 is impressive. Also, in order to recover what was lost last year, industries have accelerated their processes and the numbers and figures for the end of 2021 look bleak for the environment.

By April 2021, the World Bank published a report in which it assured that only 18% of the economic reactivation plans of the countries could be considered green. Now, in July of the same year, we see that this percentage put on paper is much lower in practice. Promises are made, but funding for programs that protect the environment is reduced.

The Challenge We Face

The international community has a clear challenge: to demonstrate in practice what is written on paper. For this, the actions that are taken from the micro to the macro are extremely important. There is a clear focus to address: consumption. A more responsible, cleaner consumption that takes into account all the links in the production chain will pressure large industries to rethink their production. Likewise, governments have the duty to create measures that put in check industries that directly and indirectly affect the health of ecosystems and consequently human health.

Basically, we are faced with avoiding a second pandemic, avoiding an economic downturn that is directly caused by natural catastrophes, catastrophes that we ourselves have produced. We are faced with putting into practice a human gaze on the place we inhabit, being aware of the other, and not acting under individual pleasures. Creating spaces for dialogue in which we can address these issues, and leading those dialogues to clear and accurate actions, is the greatest hope we have now.