The experience of living through lockdown has reminded us how important a healthy environment is to our health and wellbeing – from having clean air to being able to walk in the park. It’s also shown how effectively nature can recover when we’re forced to change our behaviour. At the same time the pandemic has highlighted the inequity that exists in society as those who were already most disadvantaged have less choice about how they travel and where they work, are least likely to enjoy the restorative benefits of nature and are most at risk of job losses. Protecting lives and livelihoods is the immediate priority but doing that in a way that protects the planet is the long-term opportunity.
The crisis has been referred to as an international wake-up call, which demands a moment of ‘re-set’. If we’re going to ‘build back better’ as the slogan has it, then we need a recovery plan which puts both equity and sustainability at its heart.
These should be integral to the planning being done to help the economy recover and to mitigate the long-term social impacts of the pandemic on our communities. Wasting less water, food and energy helps keep household finances under control. Protecting and improving our natural environment keeps us physically active and regular volunteering can combat isolation and anxiety. Being better equipped and more empowered as a community means we can support those in our neighbourhood who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and hold our local institutions to account for the way they deliver the environmental services on which we rely.
As the Chancellor prepares to unveil an economic stimulus package there has never been a better time to promote responsible business and to invest in skills training and wage subsidies that mark a step change in our ability to meet climate change targets. Carbon literacy should be seen as a core skill alongside maths and English for all workers and young people left unemployed after the lockdown should be guaranteed the opportunity of a job that delivers social and environmental benefit. These are all issues and opportunities that existed pre-Covid, but have now been brought into sharper relief, and need more urgent and far-reaching solutions.
Engaging people in the debate about how we deliver a post-pandemic recovery which is both green and fair is crucial. This means listening to the views of citizens assemblies. It also means supporting more people to get their voice heard in their local community so that the drive towards net zero is as relevant to how we rebuild our neighbourhoods as it is to how we repair the national economy.
By Graham Duxbury, Chief Executive, Groundwork UK