Global environmental emergencies such as pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, and deforestation can cause far greater damage than the Covid-19 pandemic if left unchecked. Simultaneously, to make economic recovery resilient and durable without destructing the environment we should aim to design to ‘build back better’. Assuming the present circumstance as a prevue for the future, our recovery policies are ought to trigger developmental change and speculation that would increase the society’s resilience and gear up for future shocks. The key approach to recovery should focus on factoring in sustainability, inclusiveness, and resilience. That would include reducing pollution by long-term emission reduction goals, long-term resilience, and adaptive capacity, focusing on how to decrease biodiversity loss and escalate the circularity of supply chains.
Is it the perfect time for countries to use pandemic situation as a skateboard to formulate policies integrating sustainable and economic development?
Throughout the world, Covid-19 has changed the perspective of life. Every country, whether developed or undeveloped are confronting the situation in several ways. The most striking images have come from the secondary and tertiary sectors being affected the most. The situation steered to the drowning of the global economy, reducing employment opportunities, resource production, and stressing up the previously stressed poverty status. Already, the world is exasperated in solving multiple problems like urbanization, economic crisis, climate change, greenhouse gas and ozone layer depletion, extinction, pollution, exploitation of resources and vanishing forest lands, soil erosion, and disasters. This has led the national organizations, government, and emergency services to focus on the immediate needs like action on reduction of human contact, boosting hospital capacity, addressing hunger, protecting people from bankruptcy. This triggered the need for international funding organizations, policymakers, environmentalists, and urban planners and socialists to work together to plan and propose a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive environment for all.
What to do in such a situation?
With such a massive population and Covid-19 cases breaching, a centralized decision of nation-wide lockdown was mandatory. Therefore, complete lockdown led to the shutting down of institutions, commercial places, public & semi-public units, offices; public transportation, industries, construction of buildings, etc. Each of the activities that helped in bracing the economy of a country, are a threat to the environment by various means. Factoring in sustainability would provide guidance to policymakers to develop a sustainability checklist that government can use for quick future proposals. The 11th Petersburg Climate Dialogue on 27th & 28th April 2020 that was held virtually by the governments of Germany and the UK, approximately 30 ministerial-level officials from developed and developing countries along with the UN Secretary-General and the UNFCCC-COP President were in attendance. There participants accentuated the importance of a “green recovery”– one that integrates economic recovery from COVID-19, climate action and the SDGs. We know economy is important for progress of a country but environment is also essential for survival. The recovery process should encourage a serious event to perform that will be an essential transformative change toward a sustainable society. Some solutions will be essential in the present while others will be essential over the long run. Recovery policies can deliver both economic and climate goals. Following the backup rescue correspondences, there are a set of economic recovery policy types which offer great economic multipliers and constructive climate impact. To reboot the economy we need to find an integrated solution to strengthen the relationship between the environment and the economy.
The pandemic has induced the urgent need to strategize the existing policies by focusing on the following areas:
- Implementation of Green Infrastructure: During the pandemic with complete lockdown, people went into the depression on being locked inside their homes. Many societies lack proper green zones like parks or open spaces to relax, some also lack proper sunlight into their buildings. These situations trigger mental illness in a long run. The amalgamation of the built environment (buildings) and the natural environment (open spaces, wetlands, parks, green roofs) have provided the communities with multiple benefits. This would aid in carbon sequestration, decreasing urban heat island, mitigate air pollution, better living space, and good mental health.
- Revising the land use pattern in the Master Plans: The neighborhood planning concept should be implemented with expressways surrounding the outer regions and only less vehicular movement may be allowed within the residential spaces. The percentage of agricultural lands along with forest and green belt should be more than other land uses. Proper execution of the National Green Tribunal Act would provide an expeditious remedy in cases relating to environmental protection, forest, and other resource conservation.
- Urban Farming: Encouraging urban farming or urban agriculture which means producing or cultivating food and distributing it in or around urban areas which would improve the primary sector group in urban areas also. Addressing people about the negative or the ill effects of the intake of processed food and making them aware of the benefits of natural organically made products.
- Encouraging people to use Public Transportation, Electric Vehicles, and Bicycles for commuting.
- Augmenting biodiversity and also guaranteeing sufficient food supply: Biodiversity needs to be valued and the government should have the leverage for finding out nature-based solutions by increasing private finance and investors to study the impact on biodiversity, risks, and opportunities.
- Implementing Green Fiscal Policy: Green fiscal policy can prove to be a valuable measure with the help of carbon taxation and fossil fuel subsidy reforms for rationalization and arrangement of the budgetary process along with government bodies aiming for sustainable and resilient socio-economy. At this time it would act as a toolkit for the government by accounting for inefficient expenditures such as environmentally harmful subsidies.
- Fostering Innovation leading to our behavior change: New innovative techniques may create better job opportunities but may not be suitable to the environment so it needs to ponder potential behavioral change affecting other innovation or policy measures.
- The government must propose stringent laws to control the population of high-density regions.
- Creating Sustainable Infrastructure: It would help boost economic activity and create jobs.
- Implementing an efficient waste management system: Segregation before dumping of the Municipal solid waste and biomedical waste.
- Investing in education and training to address immediate unemployment from COVID-19 and structural shifts from de-carbonization.
- Natural capital venture for ecosystem resilience and rejuvenation including the rebuilding of climate-friendly agriculture and carbon-rich habitats.
- Creating awareness among the rural and urban area people about health, hygiene, and how to generate an economy without harming the environment through capacity-building programs.
As we jolt to reconcile from the effects of the pandemic we need to gear up our ambitions in setting up sustainable development and creating healthy cities. This would necessitate resilience in planning, policymaking, reforming the laws, and using multiple innovative techniques and approaches by reinforcing the link between environment and economy to overcome any kind of problems in the future. The change cannot be perfectly executed if all of us do not come forward and join hands in shaping the economy and environment. It is imperative not only to prioritize only economic concerns but the right foresight and effective preparedness measure would help us fight for our uncertain future encompassing healthy living for all.
I, Shibani Mohapatra, an Architect and Urban Planner. I am an enthusiast to publish my writings on my interest areas that includes Sustainable Urban Development, Environmental planning, Climate Change, Urban Policy and Planning.