With the COVID-19 pandemic presenting humanity with its biggest challenge since the Second World War, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres is calling for a six-point, Marshall Plan-style response to rebuilding the global economy—and building back in a way that slows climate change.
“There is a natural tendency in the face of crisis to take care of one’s own first. But true leadership understands that there are times to think big and more generously,” Guterres writes  this week, in an opinion piece for the New York Times. “We must work together as societies and as an international community to save lives, ease suffering, and lessen the shattering economic and social consequences of COVID-19.”
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The “immediate and dreadful” impact of the coronavirus means “we must act now and we must act together,” he adds, “just as we must act together to address another urgent global emergency that we must not lose sight of—climate change.” With the World Meteorological Organization now placing average global warming at 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels, “the world is on track for devastating climate disruption from which no one can self-isolate.”
Guterres points to world-wide climate disruption, severe biodiversity loss, and changes in human-animal interactions, with science “screaming at us that we are close to running out of time” to protect the planetary health on which human health depends .
But “addressing climate change and COVID-19 simultaneously and at enough scale requires a response stronger than any seen before to safeguard lives and livelihoods,” he adds. “A recovery from the coronavirus crisis must not take us just back to where we were last summer. It is an opportunity to build more sustainable and inclusive economies and societies—a more resilient and prosperous world.”
Guterres’ six-point plan includes:
- Directing the trillions of dollars in post-COVID recovery investment to accelerate decarbonization and “deliver new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition”;
- Using taxpayer bailouts to create green jobs and sustainable, inclusive growth, not to rescue “outdated polluting, carbon-intensive industries”;
- Building a transition to a more resilient society “that is fair to all and leaves no one behind”;
- Investing public funds in sustainable ventures while putting an end to fossil fuel subsidies;
- Refocusing the global finance system to take climate-related risks and opportunities into account;
- Working together as an international community to solve both crises, recognizing that “like the coronavirus, greenhouse gases respect no boundaries. Isolation is a trap. No country can succeed alone.”