Is it likely that citizens might be more open to climate solutions because they’ve seen that life goes on, even without air travel and constant mobility?
There are some very negative sides to this crisis, obviously. I am concerned about my elderly parents in the UK, my husband’s family in South Africa. Of course people will go back to flying and travelling. But it has shown us that we can do a lot more without travelling. People have become much more adept on Skype, on Zoom, and have found they can stay in touch with their families and do a lot of things in a low-carbon way. For example, I’m really old school, so I like to write on a paper document and the type it into a computer. I can’t do that at home. I can’t print documents. So I’ve really had to learn to review documents on the screen. Younger people were already working in this way—my daughter doesn’t print things. So perhaps the older generation has found that we can work in a different way. People have been very imaginative. My husband’s physiotherapist has been working by video. So my husband has found he doesn’t need to travel to the clinic. He can still do his injury rehabilitation—but at home on a video session. It has shown us that we can do a lot of things without travelling around all the time. Perhaps we’re now more aware of travelling only when we really need to, and not travelling all the time out of habit.
People used to say that the investment needed to fight climate change was so big it perhaps couldn’t be done. But the economic stimulus plans for coronavirus are even bigger—and they’re happening. Is this a sign that the necessary climate investment really can be achieved?
Absolutely. It always could be achieved, it’s just that there’s an inertia in the system so that it takes a long time to shift money to greener and transition activities. The seriousness of the coronavirus has made it necessary that big changes in investments are made in a very short time. Look how fast some of the manufacturing has changed from making totally different items to making ventilators or other necessary medical equipment. That’s been much faster than many of the investments that are needed to address climate change. We’ve surprised ourselves. When it became clear that manufacturing needed to change, it did change – and very fast. It has shown in clear relief that actually we can do this—we can address climate change. The investment potential is there, with for example the EU Sustainable Finance Action Plan and many things that are going on with the green recovery. We can divert money much more quickly than we thought. Perhaps this has made it less scary, because we’ve just done this with the virus, so let’s carry on and deal with other big threats that are facing us, including climate change, which is probably the biggest that we’re facing.
What can the EIB do to help in this new situation?
We have a very important role in the recovery in the EU. I believe there’s going to be a lot of new initiatives in the green recovery. The bank is not only supporting the health sector and social sector to recover and support SME job creation—but we can also really help with green efforts, using our knowledge, our financial innovation, partnering up with public money to really accelerate green financing. And in building back better, building resilience to all kinds of shocks. This time it has been a virus, but let’s suppose the next one is catastrophic drought across large parts of Europe, knocking our tourism, agriculture, wine. We need to be resilient to those things, and the EIB with its multisector approach, funding public and private sectors, can really help drive that agenda. And then of course we are a global multilateral development bank, we are the EU’s development bank, so we can also really take this forward in developing countries and help them not only with their health crisis, but also through our credit lines to employment in small businesses. Critically we can help countries build resilience to other big impacts on people living in urban and rural areas—addressing all types of risks, including climate change and environmental degradation. If we help our clients with this more holistic resilience across all different types of threats, then we’re helping them build stronger economies and work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and really helping them recover in a green way. This will help them step forward into a cleaner, greener future for their citizens, as well as for our citizens in the EU.
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