OECD Friends of Climate: COVID-19, Climate, and Biodiversity

On 22 April 2020, Earth Day, the OECD’s Friends of Climate met to discuss Biodiversity in COVID-19. The meeting was attended by OECD Member country ambassadors, the Secretary-General, Deputy Secretaries General, the Chief of Staff and Sherpa, the Chief Economist, the Director of the Environment and the Director of Development Co-operation to share their analyses on this theme. Gabriela Ramos delivered the following remarks:

I welcome the initiative to call for this meeting at this moment in time. when talking about resilient systems, and looking at the level of interconnectedness of our world economy and cascading effects of this pandemic, we could not agree more that environmental agenda is central to healthy, sustainable, equitable societies.

Even if our countries are focused on fighting the pandemic and containing the economic damage, the decisions and policies that we take now will determine how we come out of this crisis, and whether or not we will learn from it. This pandemic and the widespread effects it is having across all the systems we rely on in our daily lives, is revealing truly how important resilience and sustainability is. We must come out of this crisis with having learned from it, with a renewed commitment to contribute to the higher goal of delivering on our environmental and climate commitment, creating a win-win-win for people, the planet, and our societies.

This is not about tomorrow. The stimulus packages, the government support on many areas, to SME’s to people, to different activities that we are rolling out today can and must be consistent with climate objectives.

In the recovery phase, where we will almost certainly need further stimulus packages and efforts, we must prioritize those that are consistent with our climate objectives, on infrastructure, on transport, on many other sectors. This is why IPAAC, International Programme for Accelerating Action on Climate is particularly important at this stage.

But, considering the high level of inequalities that have been brought further to light in this crisis, we must also take care to align response and recovery efforts it with the goal of achieving more inclusive societies.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has already had disproportionately negative impacts on certain groups of people: lower-income groups, children, youth, women, the elderly, workers in the informal sector. Across the OECD, 30 percent of people are considered financially vulnerable, meaning they will fall into poverty if they forego 3 months of income, soon to be a reality as confinement measures continue across countries.

They have lower health status, and their children are more affected by the closing of schools. Access to internet is much lower on those groups and half of the world population are not connected to internet.

Already, 2.7 billion workers (or 81% of the world’s workforce) are currently impacted. New unemployment benefit claims in some countries are 10 times ‘normal’ rates.

With job loss, many of them are losing their health insurance in the face of this health crisis.

And women are hit harder by the impact of the crisis as many women are overrepresented in informal employment without adequate social protection and healthcare coverage. The impact is amplified in developing countries.

Although logical that those with less means to respond to the crisis suffer most, this does not mean we should accept these disproportionate impacts. We have yet to account for inequalities in our response efforts, and we must work to do so.

Unfortunately, these disproportionate impacts foreshadow the future as the same groups are likely to be hardest hit by climate events and crises. We know that low-income households are more vulnerable to air pollution, lack access to clean drinking water and quality infrastructure.  They are also more affected by climate events.  Evidence from past crisis tell a clear story:

Post-Hurricane Katrina disaster, black workers were 3.8 times more likely to have lost their jobs (increasing to 7 times for low-income black workers). Climate change affects workers who are the most reliant on ecosystem services such as farmers and fishermen.

So we need a fair transition, and this is something your countries have underscored. This crisis has made it more clear than ever before that our current economic system and growth models are not setting us up for successful response to impending climate impacts but rather poses great risks for future well-being.

A comprehensive and integrated approach to human health is needed, and a green transition can provide a significant opportunity to alleviate existing inequalities in outcomes.

Thank you.

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