Pandemic as an opportunity

Tonight I spoke on the European Forum´s panel on Global warming – a fair and inclusive ecological transition. Please find my presentation below. Sorry for misspellings 🙂

The pandemic as an opportunity
The class and gender benefits of a just green new deal
Jens Holm, European Forum 19/11

We all agree that we need a just transition. A transition, or rather transformation, that not only lower our emissions in acordance with our climate targets but also makes the world more equal from an socio- economical point of view. That could imply that an ecological transition is not just in itself. I´d argue that it is, indeed. The climate crisis, collapse in biodiversity and other ecological problems hits the most vurneables the hardest. So, to put the hardes hit first – thats how to solve the problem. Let me take some examples.

In Europe anlone more than 400 000 persons die prematurely every year due to air pollution mainly due to traffic and industry emissions. And the extra costs for the local bad air quality for the member states health budgets is on a staggering 250 to 1000 billion euros.

Who are the persons behind this figure? Who lives in dwellings close to noisy motorways and dirty industries? It is not the rich, it is the working class and lower income people. So, building greener cities, with public transport of world class perhaps free of charge – that would benefit the less well off. Our voters.

A green transition would also be good political action from a gender perspective. Women tend to drive less car and rely more on public transport. Therefore, mass investments in public transport is not only good climate policy, it is good gender policy.

How could we do that? One example froom my home town; Stockholm. In Stockholm we imposed congestion charges 2006 on car trafic in the city. We even won the following referendum on this charges, now turned in to a congestion tax. The tax generates valuble resources that can be used to improve the public transport in the Swedish capital. Who benefits from this? Of course, working class and also women compared to men as a group. Since women, as I mentioned, drive less car and depend more on public transport. Tax on cars is in other words not only the right thing for the climate, it is fenomenal political action for the working class and women.

We could take a similar example on what we eat. What we put on our dinner plates – meat or veggie, lot of sugars or none, alcohol or water – would we usually regard as a personal preference. But we can´t escape from the fact that the food and agricultural sector has a huge usually negative impact on the environment and on public health. A diet towards more plant based, vegetarian, food would improve public health and save thousands and thousands of lives in Europe alone. And, yes, that is a political issue. Today the EU subsidises animal factories, live transports and slaughter houses with public money, well that’s billions and billions of euros. To scrap those subsidises is very good climate policy, but also very good for the public health. Add to that, if we would serve more climate friendly school meals in our schools – many countries don´t even have free school meals – that too would be an important measure in order to reduce emissions from food sector, but it would also help all those youngsters from less well off families where  proper not is to take for granted.

Needless to say. A green just transition could also be the solution to many of todays social challenges. In all our societies we have mass unemployment. Investements in renewable energy, public transport, railway, plant based food (as I mentioned), retrofitting and renovation of dwellings and public buildings – all that are urgently needed for the climate transition, but it would also create millions of new green jobs. I just noted that the PM Boris Johnson was bragging about the 250 000 new green jobs his climate plan would deliver, in particular in northern Great Britian were unemployment is a huge problem. I´m not a fan of Johnson, but is doing the right thing to promise those jobs. The EU Commission has calculated that an increased climate target from 20 to 30 percent to 2020 would have created 6 million new green jobs in the EU. Those calculations are a bit old, I know. But I think those kind of examples could not be enough highlighted.

And it is not only about new jobs. Dirty jobs – if I may say so – in fossil industry will disappear. With active labour policy instruments the state could help workers to find new jobs in new green areas. The market will not fix that.

The pandemic – a window of opportunity

Needles to say, the corona pandemic is a terrible thing. It kills people and closes down our societies. It makes life awful in many respect. I and my famili have suffered from covid-19, so I know a little bit about what I´m talking about.

But, no crisis that doesn´t also bring opportunities. I am referring to what is happing in many cities in Europe right now. Due to restrictions transports have dropped dramtically, transport with personal cars not the least. We have all seen the pictures with empty streets in Paris, London and other metropolies. Air quality has been improved and there is less noise and congestion. Many cities rightly states that this is not a bad thing and the Covid-19 recovery should keep the good features of the pandemic. That means a recovery that will take space from cars and bring it back to the people. Paris for instance has decided to close down more than 70 percent of the car parking areas in the city and plans for the 15 minutes city. A city with access to all relevant service within 15 minutes walk or cycling. Milan, Barcelona, London and Copenhagen are other examples of cities with strategies to make the covid-recovery in to a green and just one by converting car space into bicycle- and walking lanes, planting trees, building parks and invest more in public transport. Here in Stockholm we might shut down Bromma airport, an airport very centrally located, since no one uses it anylonger. What opportunites wouldn´t that offer us in order to build new houses, workplaces, green areas etc…

That is the kind of development we in the Left should facilitate in our cities. And the pandemic brings us this window of opportunity. Let´s use it to build sustainable and inclusive cities!

Let me conclude with saying: Ambitious environmental policies are crucial in order to prevent a climate crisis and a collapse in biodiversity, but environmental political action is also fenomenal from a class and gender perspective. And we in the left are the ones who best know how to combine those perspectives. That is the role we should play when the green deal is to be rolled out in our respective countries.

Jens Holm, the Left Party, Sweden