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Time to Invest Now as Governments Devote Just 18% of COVID Spending to Green Recovery

The world’s 50 biggest economies devoted just 2.5% of their budgets in 2020 and only 18% of their pandemic spending to green recovery measures, according to a new analysis released this week by the University of Oxford and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The 50 countries spent US$14.6 trillion to stabilize their economies and $1.9 trillion on long-term COVID-19 recovery measures, The Independent reports. The $368 billion earmarked for green initiatives amounted to 2.5% of the larger figure, 18% of the smaller one.

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“Governments today haven’t been spending as green as they should,” said report author Brian O’Callaghan, lead researcher at Oxford’s Economic Recovery Project. And “almost the entirety of green spending is being driven by a few major countries, including South Korea, Spain, Germany, the UK, China, and France.”

“Humanity is facing a pandemic, an economic crisis, and an ecological breakdown—we can’t afford to lose on any front,” added UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen. “Governments have a unique chance to put their countries on sustainable trajectories that prioritize economic opportunity, poverty reduction, and planetary health at once.”

The Independent says the green recovery investments included $86 billion for sustainable transport, $66 billion for renewable energy projects, and $56.3 billion for ecosystem or forest recovery measures. But the analysis showed a large share of the money going into “dirty policies that are likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions,” the study found.

“This includes spending on bailouts for airlines in the UK, the U.S., South Africa, and South Korea,” The Independent writes. “The UK government has spent hundreds of millions of pounds on airline bailouts since the start of the pandemic.”

Oxford and UNEP also pointed to countries missing the opportunity to attach “green strings” to their bailout dollars, with China and India expanding domestic coal mining and Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and Australia throwing new money at oil and gas production.

O’Callaghan pointed to the investment opportunities governments missed in the first year of the pandemic. “Ways of creating green jobs, boosting the economy and tackling the climate emergency go far beyond investing in green energy generation and include: constructing electric vehicle charging networks; building fast broadband to help people work from home; creating cycle routes and remodelling roads to make green areas more accessible in cities; insulating homes; improving waste collection and expanding recycling plants; building flood defences; and planting trees,” The Guardian writes. But so far, governments have “failed to see beyond the immediate need to stanch the losses of hard-hit industries.”

In the first year of the pandemic, “governments did not have that much discretion on support spending,” O’Callaghan said. “But now we are moving into a new phase.” With economic recovery higher on the agenda, “we are not so engrossed in the immediate needs and need to look at significant additional [green] spending over the coming year.”