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OPINION

09 June 2020

Invest in a sustainable post-Covid society

Save the young generation

Some corporate lobbyists see the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to scale back our ambitions to tackle climate change. Young people should not be subjected to this, says Werner Schouten.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte addressed young people in particular at his press conference last month, calling on them to take up the gauntlet and start a revolution. That makes sense, because with everything that is going on today it will not be long before we can label today’s young people as the Lost Generation 2.0.

While the first Lost Generation had to contend with the oil crisis and the frugal wage policy of the 1970s, young people today are facing exorbitantly priced housing, the flexible labour market and the vagaries of the student loan system. So another double whammy from coronavirus and the climate crisis was the last things they needed. Minister of Finance Wopke Hoekstra speaks confidently of the Netherlands’ ‘deep pockets’, but the pockets he is talking about are those of the young people of today and tomorrow. And that is why every investment in a socially distanced society should also be an investment in tackling climate change.

Courage

For the well-being of young and future generations, it is essential that the government links short-term support measures with longer-term societal goals, such as our climate targets. For example, listed companies asking for support should be required to bring their emissions into line with the Paris Agreement. This would mean that the support now being provided will not be funded through debts that weigh on the shoulders of young generations, but investments in a more sustainable future. A future in which global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees.

However, this will require a government with courage, and one that is not afraid to choose an ambitious climate policy as we deal with the effects of the coronavirus crisis. A government that is prepared to hold the business community to our goal of offsetting all harmful emissions by 2050.

Economic recovery and sustainability

Now that short-term profits are under pressure, politicians and corporate lobbyists are seizing the opportunity to deprioritize action on the climate. The long term does not matter much to them. They would be all too happy to shelve plans for a more sustainable recovery with their well-known refrain: ‘First let’s wait and see where we are once we’ve dealt with the pandemic’.

However, economic recovery is not a matter of seeing where we are once the risk from the coronavirus crisis has passed. It’s about what we want to achieve in the future. If this crisis has taught us anything, it’s the revelation of how much we can achieve as a society when, with the government at the helm, we set our sights on a particular goal that everybody is behind. We can do it, if the will is there.

Look to France

In recent research, the economist and Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz showed that there are many investment opportunities that can support both an economic recovery and promote environmental sustainability. The British government took note of this with great interest. The French government, too, has adopted a proactive approach. In exchange for financial support, it has decided to ban Air France from flying to destinations that can be reached by train in less than 2.5 hours. It seems the French are already choosing a new normal, and we can too – if the will is there.

The climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic are two huge challenges that will affect the lives of future generations for a long time to come. But focusing on one problem to the exclusion of everything else is bound to lead to disastrous consequences in other areas. So it is up to us and the government to opt unanimously for a more sustainable recovery policy and to prevent a new ‘Lost Generation’ from emerging. Only by pulling together can we fight coronavirus and climate change at the same time.

The author is chairperson of the Young Climate Movement.

Werner Schouten

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