Why we HAVE to make the stimulus sustainable

A conversation starter

by Nathaniel Pelle, Senior Campaigner

20 March 2020

This Covid-19 stimulus must be delivered in such a way as to keep as many people as possible healthy, safe, and certain of their future - that means safeguarding our planet as well.

© Greenpeace / Dean Sewell

As the world and Australia grapple with Covid-19 and lurch toward more economic uncertainty it is apparent that an unprecedented economic stimulus should be introduced swiftly and at scale. It must be sufficient to match the unprecedented health emergency that has arrived at a time when we are already reeling from an unprecedented climate crisis.

Like most countries around the world, Australia’s state and federal governments are rolling out ongoing stimulus projects – essentially injecting taxpayer money into the economy to keep businesses afloat and people employed. This stimulus must be delivered in such a way as to keep as many people as possible healthy, safe, and certain of their future – that means safeguarding our planet as well.

Like the climate crisis embodied in this black summer of fires, floods and drought, Covid-19 is proving that we rely far more on community cooperation and public services than we do corporations. We are a wealthy country, blessed with a rich and unique yet fragile and damaged land that we must restore and protect against future climate damage.

Following the 2008 global financial crisis, stimulus interventions globally were skewed disproportionately not only to the rich, but to carbon-intensive industries. That’s a mistake we can’t afford to repeat. Acknowledging that climate change represents a social and economic risk, this stimulus must be designed to look after people first and foremost, dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to slow global temperature rise, and prepare us for a climate changed world.

We should approach this as an opportunity to invest in public and planetary health, using the low interest rates resulting from this current financial situation to springboard massive investment in low-carbon infrastructure, research, and training especially in regions that will be most affected by the inevitable global transition to clean energy.  

This stimulus can help create the jobs of the future while making this land more resilient to climate impacts, and help Australia capitalise on the clean energy transition.

Public money must also be used to create sustainable jobs now (including jobs for a diverse range of skills), especially in areas on the frontline of climate change – recovering from bushfires, drought, floods and other extreme weather.

Here’s what it could look like:

Make people’s lives better – starting with the most vulnerable

Our first obligation must be to keep people healthy, safe, and sheltered right now. But this is also an opportunity to equalise our economy and society, rejuvenate our cities, and lift people out of poverty, including energy poverty.  

Here’s a start on how:  

  • Put money in the pockets of people before corporations
  • Ensure everyone has a roof over their heads  – considering the homeless and other vulnerable people first
  • Ensure everyone has access to free or affordable health and wellbeing support, especially the isolated, elderly, and differently able
  • Provide zero-emissions heating and cooling to social housing, public schools, tafes, hospitals, and jails as well as homes in climate-affected and remote communities
  • Fast-track public and active transport infrastructure spending, like Sydney’s Metro West project and the Suburban Rail Loop in Melbourne, as well as cycleways and walking paths, including in regional cities
  • Fund urban renewal, making cities greener, more accessible, and more pedestrian-friendly

Invest in the future by starting Australia on the path to becoming a clean energy superpower 

The global transition to clean energy is unstoppable but how that transition occurs, and who benefits most, is still up for grabs. Australia has the potential to be a world leader in clean energy. Not only can we power the country, but we can also produce enough to export renewable energy, knowledge, and components to our region.  By favouring and incentivising locally manufactured components and services as we build capacity we can generate a jobs boom that will carry us out of the crisis in better shape than we entered it.

It could look like this:

  • Extend and massively re-fund the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC)
  • Establish a clean manufacturing industry fund to encourage reduction of emissions from the manufacturing sector
  • Major funding to fast track renewable energy zones around the country including training hubs and infrastructure and rapidly upgrade Australia’s grid infrastructure to ensure it can fully meet the needs of a modern, distributed renewable electricity sector
  • Fund a clean energy solutions centre to help businesses lower their emissions and power bills by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy
  • Establish a renewable energy export industry through developing renewable hydrogen, batteries and regionally interconnected renewable energy farms across northern Australia with the consent and collaboration of Traditional Owners
  • Reinstate and increase funding to the CSIRO energy business unit
  • Accelerate the electrification of the public transportation system, powered by additional renewable capacity, starting with diesel buses
  • Electrify government fleets and build a national network of electric vehicle charging stations
  • Instead of handing over money to share-holder owned airlines, let’s finally fund locally built high-speed rail

Restore, recover and build resilience

This is a beautiful and harsh land, one of the driest and hottest, with unparalleled unique biodiversity and the oldest living culture on the planet. Climate change and colonisation have damaged Australia’s landscapes over centuries – fires, floods, and sea-level rise have put many of us, especially Aboriginal, and Torres-Strait Islander people on the frontline of climate damage. Restoring damaged ecosystems will not only help bring threatened species from the brink of extinction, it will trap and absorb carbon as well as make our land more productive, and more resilient to climate change.

Here are some ways we could do it:

  • Support Indigenous and community-led initiatives underway and emerging that are focused on reforesting and replanting in bushfire affected habitats
  • Repair coastal ecosystems by replanting and restoring Australia’s mangrove forests, seagrasses, and salt marshes
  • Fast-track spending on infrastructure and community buildings in fire, drought, storm, and flood affected areas
  • Funding for infrastructure in remote communities, for example heat resistant buildings and buttressing coastal communities in the north feeling the impacts from sea-level rise
  • Reward famers who conserve and restore native habitat and provide grants to assist farmers who adopt regenerative practices and sequester carbon.

This is not the end. 

This is a starting point. Unfortunately this current health crisis, like the climate crisis, may be with us for a while.  

What’s clear is that while we respond as a community to the Covid-19 pandemic, we must be careful not to wash our hands of the ongoing crises and injustices that already threaten people’s lives, health, wellbeing and livelihoods, including the climate and biodiversity crises. 

Just like Covid-19, climate change is an inequity multiplier that disproportionately affects those who are already vulnerable and marginalised. That means it’s critical that public funds flow towards strengthening the social AND ecological systems that we depend on. 

That’s going to take community collaboration – we’re up for it.

What’s next?

Send us your ideas!  We don’t have all the answers, we’d love you to give them to us. How do you think we can build community, save the planet, and flatten the curve all at once?

By Nathaniel Pelle, Senior Campaigner

Nat leads Greenpeace’s Australian campaigns to end the age of oil and gas, and to protect our oceans from reckless corporations and government inaction.