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A climate placard during a protest carried out by the climate activist group Extinction Rebellion in front of the House of Representatives in The Hague, Netherlands on April 17th, 2020. (Photo: Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Return to 'Business as Usual' Means Climate Catastrophe: World's Mayors Demand Transformative Green Covid-19 Recovery

"Half-measures that maintain the status quo won't move the needle or protect us from the next crisis."

Jake Johnson

Nearly 40 mayors representing more than 700 million people in cities across the globe are calling for a transformative recovery from the Covid-19 crisis that fundamentally alters global economic and energy systems, warning that a mere return to "business as usual" means accepting a world barreling toward climate catastrophe.

The mayors on Thursday signed on to a statement of principles that aims to provide a framework for the "transition to a more sustainable, low-carbon, inclusive and healthier economy for people and the planet."

"Covid-19 has laid bare the systemic inequities too often found at the heart of our communities—and as we start to emerge from this crisis, we must rebuild an economy that truly works for everyone," said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, chair of C40 Cities, the coalition of mayors that crafted the 9-point statement.

Mxolisi Kaunda, mayor of Durban, South Africa, called on cities to "approach the future with a new vision, a vision of a prosperous and climate-just society for all."

"During this time we are forced to confront the fragility of the current economic system that has created a vastly unequal society and how that inequality makes it difficult for our social and health relief systems to respond effectively," said Kaunda. "Let us not lose the painful lessons that we have had to learn during this pandemic and use those rather to become cities that are more resilient to future disasters, including climate change."

The principles endorsed by 37 mayors are as follows:

  • The recovery should not be a return to 'business as usual'—because that is a world on track for 3°C or more of over-heating;
  • The recovery, above all, must be guided by an adherence to public health and scientific expertise, in order to assure the safety of those who live in our cities; 
  • Excellent public services, public investment, and increased community resilience will form the most effective basis for the recovery; 
  • The recovery must address issues of equity that have been laid bare by the impact of the crisis – for example, workers who are now recognized as essential should be celebrated and compensated accordingly and policies must support people living in informal settlements;
  • The recovery must improve the resilience of our cities and communities. Therefore, investments should be made to protect against future threats—including the climate crisis—and to support those people impacted by climate and health risks;
  • Climate action can help accelerate economic recovery and enhance social equity, through the use of new technologies and the creation of new industries and new jobs. These will drive wider benefits for our residents, workers, students, businesses and visitors; 
  • We commit to doing everything in our power and the power of our city governments to ensure that the recovery from Covid-19 is healthy, equitable, and sustainable;
  • We commit to using our collective voices and individual actions to ensure that national governments support both cities and the investments needed in cities, to deliver an economic recovery that is healthy, equitable, and sustainable;
  • We commit to using our collective voices and individual actions to ensure that international and regional institutions invest directly in cities to support a healthy, equitable, and sustainable recovery.

"The only parallel to what we're facing right now is the Great Depression," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. "Against that kind of challenge, half-measures that maintain the status quo won't move the needle or protect us from the next crisis. We need a New Deal for these times—a massive transformation that rebuilds lives, promotes equality, and prevents the next economic, health, or climate crisis."

The mayors' statement came after new Oxford University research published this week found that "green stimulus" spending on sustainable energy projects would be more effective than conventional stimulus measures in repairing the widespread economic damage done by the coronavirus pandemic.

"The Oxford study compared green stimulus projects with traditional stimulus, such as measures taken after the 2008 global financial crisis, and found green projects create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns... and lead to increased long-term cost savings," the Guardian reported.

Cameron Hepburn, lead author of the new study, told Reuters on Tuesday that his research shows "we can choose to build back better, keeping many of the recent improvements we've seen in cleaner air, returning nature and reduced greenhouse gas emissions."

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