• On Earth Day the United Nations proposed six climate-related actions to create a more sustainable and resilient future after coronavirus.
  • From using fiscal policy to drive the shift from a grey to green economy, to ending fossil fuel subsidies - here's what UN Secretary-General António Guterres has urged the world to do.
  • Plus a round-up of how other global organizations have responded.

“We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future”

— United Nations Secretary-General

With this restart, a window of hope and opportunity opens… an opportunity for nations to green their recovery packages and shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, safe and more resilient”

— UN Climate Chief

As the world begins planning for a post-pandemic recovery, the United Nations is calling on Governments to seize the opportunity to “build back better” by creating more sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies.

“The current crisis is an unprecedented wake-up call,” said Secretary-General António Guterres in his International Mother Earth Day message. “We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future.”

The United Nations is devising a blueprint for a healthier plant and society that leaves no one behind. Actions are being taken across the United Nations system to ensure a more resilient future.

Secretary-General’s Initiative

Mr. Guterres proposed six climate-related actions to shape the recovery:

First, the huge amounts of money to be spent on recovery from the coronavirus must deliver new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition.

Second, where taxpayers’ money is used to rescue businesses, it must be tied to achieving green jobs and sustainable growth.

Third, fiscal firepower must drive a shift from the grey to green economy, empowering societies and people to be more resilient.

Fourth, public funds should be used to invest in the future, not the past, and flow to sustainable sectors and projects that help the environment and the climate. Fossil fuel subsidies must end, and polluters must start paying for their pollution.

Fifth, climate risks and opportunities must be incorporated into the financial system as well as all aspects of public policy making and infrastructure.

Sixth, all need to work together as an international community.

In a policy brief, the Secretary-General said human rights can and must guide COVID-19 response and recovery. The recovery must also respect the rights of future generations, enhancing climate action aiming at carbon neutrality by 2050 and protecting biodiversity. “We will need to ‘build back better’ and maintain the momentum of international cooperation, with human rights at the centre,” he said.

The report also stressed the need to ensure that national and local response and recovery plans identify and put in place targeted measures to address the disproportionate impact of the virus on certain groups and individuals, including migrants, displaced persons and refugees, people living in poverty, those without access to water and sanitation or adequate housing, persons with disabilities, women, older persons, LGBTI people, children, and people in detention or institutions.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

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A satellite tracks over Earth.
Image: NASA

“With this restart, a window of hope and opportunity opens… an opportunity for nations to green their recovery packages and shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, safe and more resilient,” said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa in her International Mother Earth Day message.

Addressing the Placencia Ambition Forum Ambition Forum on 20 April, a virtual high-level meeting that brought together major actors in the climate change negotiations, she underlined the need to drive ambition and ensure that national climate action plans are as robust as possible to safeguard the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

While the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) and meetings of its subsidiary bodies have been postponed due to concerns over COVID-19, the delay does not change the need to submit national climate action plays by the end of 2020. Ms. Espinosa stressed the urgent need for climate action to continue unabated through other means. “Our work in 2020 is not, in any form, on hold,” she assured.

World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

The Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization says that although COVID-19 may result in a temporary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, this does not substitute for sustained climate action. Carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations at key reporting stations remain at record levels.

Previous economic crises have often been followed by “recovery” associated with much higher emission growth than before the crisis. It is therefore important that post-COVID-19 stimulus packages help the economy “grow back greener.”

“We need to act together in the interests of the health and welfare of humanity not just for the coming weeks and months, but for many generations ahead," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, in a press release celebrating Earth Day, on 22 April.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

COVID-19 is by no means a “silver lining” for the environment, said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen. UNEP is working closely with partners to build scientific knowledge on the links between ecosystem stability, the environment, and human health, including into zoonotic diseases. It is precisely because of the interconnected nature of all life on the planet that an ambitious post-2020 biodiversity framework matters greatly.

As Governments approve stimulus packages to support job creation, poverty reduction and economic growth, UNEP will help Member States “build back better”, and capture opportunities for leap-frogging to green investments in renewable energy, smart housing, green public procurement and public transport — all guided by the principles and standards of sustainable production and consumption. These actions will be critical to fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals.

By bringing together the specialized expertise of five UN agencies, the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) has embarked on the journey to help countries navigate the transition to an inclusive green economy: those that create economic growth, jobs and prosperity for all while reducing pressures on the planet.

UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)

The Geneva-based Office has issued a policy brief, developed by its Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, offering recommendations to ensure that no one is left behind in COVID-19 prevention, response and recovery efforts. UNDRR is working with the United Nations system and others to ensure that hazards of all kinds, including pandemics, do not become disasters.

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Solar panels provide clean energy to many Zambians.
Image: ILO/Marcel Crozet

World Health Organization (WHO)

The agency says that the world must ensure that lessons are learned and that this crisis provides a watershed moment for health emergency preparedness and for investment in critical 21st century public services.

UN Women

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) is urging Governments to include women in response and recovery decision-making. Whether at the local, municipal or national level, bringing the voices of women into decision-making will lead to better outcomes. In addition, policy-makers should leverage the capacities of women’s organizations. The Ebola response benefited from the involvement of women’s groups.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

“As we work through response and recovery from the shocks of the pandemic, the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] need to be designed into the DNA of global recovery,” said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, explaining why these global development targets are more important than ever in the time of COVID-19.

In an article, titled “A pandemic gives permission for change,” Elizabeth Boggs Davidsen, Director of SDG Impact at UNDP, pointed out that investors typically focus more on how environmental, social and governance factors can affect the financial valuation of their enterprise or investments - rather than on how the activities of these endeavors impact the Sustainable Development Goals or economic, social and environmental outcomes.

“As we work through response and recovery from the shocks of the pandemic, the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] need to be designed into the DNA of global recovery”

— UNDP Administrator

Too often, she says, the Goals are used as simply another reporting lens to communicate existing activities differently, rather than to make different decisions. SDG Impact was established to direct private capital towards the Goals and give investors and enterprises parameters to measure, manage communicate their contributions in a consistent and transparent manner.

World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)

The Madrid-based agency has released a set of recommendations calling for urgent and strong support to help the global tourism sector not only recover from COVID-19 but to ‘grow back better’. They provide countries with a check-list of measures to sustain jobs and support companies at risk. “Mitigating the impact on employment and liquidity, protecting the most vulnerable and preparing for recovery, must be our key priorities,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

COVID-19 has forced investment promotion agencies to shift into crisis management mode, notifying investors of Government emergency measures and providing crisis support services. A new UNCTAD report aims to help investment promotion agencies overcome such challenges. It finds that the post COVID-19 era will bring permanent changes, including accelerated digitization of investment promotion agency operations, and for many, a shift in target sectors with more health, agriculture and digital industries in the mix.