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City leaders rule out ‘business as usual’ recovery as it would harm planet

By Andrew Sansom 11 May 2020 0

Mayors from many of the world’s global cities have warned that a recovery from COVID-19 to ‘business as usual’ cannot be allowed – because that is a world on track for 3°C or more of over-heating.

The C40 Cities group released a statement of principles last week aimed at shaping the recovery from the coronavirus crisis. The mayors have vowed “to build a better, more sustainable and fairer society out of the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis”.

The principles were adopted at the first meeting of C40’s Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, supported by Eric Garcetti, the C40 chair and Los Angeles mayor, and endorsed by scores of city leaders from around the world.

The Task Force will establish a common framework that all of C40’s global membership can use to create a “new normal” for city economies; agree on concrete measures they can put in place for recovery; set out how to communicate about the climate crisis in a post-COVID-19 world; and decide how they can influence stimulus packages and interventions to support the necessary transition to a more sustainable, low-carbon, inclusive and healthier economy for people and the planet. 

The Task Force will draw on the ideas and work of leading economists, including Kate Raworth, creator of the framework Doughnut Economics and senior research associate at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. 

“COVID-19 has laid bare the systemic inequities too often found at the heart of our communities – and as we start to emerge from this crisis, we must rebuild an economy that truly works for everyone,” said Garcetti. “Our C40 statement of principles will provide a framework for a fair recovery – a sustainable and equitable vision that lifts up our most vulnerable residents and advances the work of our Global Green New Deal.”

Added Michael R Bloomberg, C40 Board president and mayor of New York City from 2002 to 2013: “This Task Force is committed to helping city leaders as they work on economic recovery in ways that lead us forward into the future, not back into the past. The principles we’ve outlined will guide our efforts to develop a ‘new normal’ – one that is greener, healthier and more prosperous for everyone.”

Statement of principles

The statement of principles acknowledges that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged are being hurt the most by both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. It also accepts that the world was not fully prepared for the crisis, despite the recent experiences of SARS, MERS, Ebola and other public health and climate emergencies – a conclusion it puts down, in part, to an undermining of international mechanisms and institutions designed to bring peace and prosperity to all, and, in part, a consequence of ignoring science-based knowledge. 

Says the group: “We, as leaders of major cities across the globe, are clear that our ambition should not be a return to ‘normal’ – our goal is to build a better, more sustainable, more resilient and fairer society out of the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.”

On this basis, its joint strategy to support recovery from COVID-19 will be governed by several principles including, among others:

  • the recovery should not be a return to ‘business as usual’ because that is a world on track for 3°C or more of over-heating;
  • for safety, the recovery must be guided by an adherence to public health and scientific expertise; 
  • excellent public services, public investment and increased community resilience will form the most effective basis for the recovery; 
  • the recovery must address issues of equity laid bare by the crisis – for example, workers who are now viewed as essential should be celebrated and compensated accordingly, and policies must support people living in informal settlements;
  • the recovery must improve the resilience of cities and communities, so investments should be made to protect against future threats and to support people impacted by climate and health risks; and
  • climate action can help accelerate economic recovery and enhance social equity, through the use of new technologies and the creation of new industries and new jobs.

Deep flaws exposed

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, said the crisis has exposed the inequality in society and deep flaws in the economy. 

“We need to come out of this embracing a ‘new normal’ and with a renewed drive to address the climate emergency,” he said. “I will do all I can to harness Londoners’ ingenuity to create a better, greener and more equal city.”

Mxolisi Kaunda, mayor of Durban, agreed that the pandemic had forced leaders to “confront the fragility of the current economic system that has created a vastly unequal society and how that inequality makes it difficult for our social and health relief systems to respond effectively. I therefore fully embrace the economic recovery trajectory of this task team that allows us to approach the future with a new vision, a vision of a prosperous and climate-just society for all.” 

Claudia López, mayor of Bogotá, said clean economic growth would be essential to the recovery. “Bogotá has included legislation at the city level to ensure that recovery does not deepen the climate crisis,” she said. “Balancing incentive structures to allow for clean economic growth is our best bet.” 

And the Athens’ mayor, Kosta Bakoyannis, listed an array of green initiatives the city is pursuing to learn from the health crisis, including “increasing its recycling network, enhancing its urban nature and, on the whole, treating this challenge as nothing more and nothing less than a unique opportunity: an opportunity to help our cities and our citizens grow, prosper and enter a new era of environmental awareness and involvement.”

Organisations involved