Covid-19 changed the world. What happens next will change our future and the time to act is now.
At this moment, governments are drawing up investment plans on an extraordinary scale with billions of pounds expected to be pumped into reviving the economy. However, worldwide pleas of caution are being issued to governments not to return to ‘normality’.
Instead, it has been proposed that an alternative revival plan branded the ‘green recovery’ is urgently needed. The green recovery proposes the money spent by government is invested in low-carbon, sustainable industries. As a result, the green recovery tackles multiple problems including climate change, unemployment, poor health and inequality.
So, what could be the benefits of the green recovery for Leicestershire?
Investment in green industry would create job opportunities for the unemployed. Leicestershire has suffered the consequences of both a national and a local lockdown. The economic effects were felt instantly; in the first month of the national lockdown it was reported that the number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance in the county doubled. With the economic forecast predicted to be bleak, it is likely businesses and individuals in Leicestershire will continue to suffer without a long-term solution to job losses.
Investing in renewable projects, such as the proposed plans to create a solar farm in Quorn or the expansion of electric car charging points in Leicester, has the potential to create new jobs which require a relatively short training period. Other possible jobs in the green recovery could be created through building infrastructure for renewable energy, infrastructure for cycling and walking, the development of green spaces, the establishment of repair and recycle schemes and building energy efficient houses.
We could create healthy sustainable food systems. The pandemic has highlighted the fragility of current supply chains. Supermarkets across Leicestershire and the UK were stripped bare of many products, whilst demands for food banks increased. In addition, people are currently failing to be provided with high quality nutritious food, and this is harming the health of people living in Leicestershire. Data from the 2017/18 Active Lives Survey reported that 60.6% of adults in Leicestershire were classified as either overweight or obese.
Leicester also has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the UK. Both of the above are directly influenced by poor diet. The green recovery proposes investing in diverse, local supply chains, which can meet the demands of local people, promote better health, reduce the risk of diseases spread by animals, and reduce carbon emissions.
We could improve access to green space. A plethora of benefits are associated with such access. The green recovery calls for the expansion and restoration of our green spaces to deliver benefits such as better air quality, the opportunities to be active and to socialise. Access to green space could also improve the mental health of people across Leicestershire. The NHS Leicester City Clinical Commissioning Group report that in Leicester, more people are receiving incapacity benefit because of mental illness than in other locations in England. Improving access to green space has been shown to have significant benefits to people’s mental health and will be particularly important given the increase in mental illness during the Covid-19 pandemic.
There could be improvements in public transport, walking and cycling. The green recovery also proposes investment in public transport and active transport. Improved air quality, lower travel costs and less traffic are amongst some of the benefits proposed. In addition, the promotion of active travel, could address rising health problems associated with a lack of physical activity in Leicestershire. The Active Lives Survey, reported that 40% of adults in Leicestershire were insufficiently active, exposing them to a greater risk of illness including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, colon cancer and breast cancer. Active transport has the potential to offer a low-carbon, solution which benefits people and the planet.
Better housing could be built. The green recovery has proposed governments invest in schemes which ensure houses are energy efficient and require low carbon heating and have proper insulation. Leicestershire has recently benefited from Fosse Energy, a not-for-profit renewable energy provider which aims to tackle the issue of fuel poverty in Leicestershire. A green recovery could ensure such schemes are expanded and subsidised so that no family must choose between food or fuel.
Better conditions for workers could be demanded. Companies which are rescued from the impending recession should be required to be compliant with the principles of a green recovery. This includes ensuring they are providing workers with a secure income and that companies are transparent on how taxpayers money is spent. Implementing these measures can ensure the principles of the green recovery are upheld and create a fair economy for all.
Overall, a green recovery has the potential to offer a range of benefits on both a local and national level. Covid-19 has exposed the stark inequalities that exist within our society; disability, ethnicity, job sector, garden ownership, access to technology and access to childcare have all influenced individuals’ experiences of the pandemic. However, in the current crisis we have learnt most people are not primarily driven by inequality or greed but are kind. On the morning after Leicester and the surrounding regions were announced to be in lockdown, over 2000 people from Leicestershire signed up to volunteering for Voluntary Action Leicestershire.
And yet, the pandemic also serves as a reminder. We are not more powerful than nature; it is dangerous to meddle in our ecosystems and doing so exposes us to pandemics and forces beyond our control. Scientists had warned governments of the perils of Covid-19 and yet the world was not prepared.
We must listen now when scientists warn us of the perils of climate change, and this time we must act.