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5 polluters making the pandemic pay

green new deal
Make them pay action at COP25, Madrid. Credit: Victor Barro/FoEI

Nothing to see here

In June the Slovenian government announced a list of over 180 investments aimed at kick-starting the economy post-Covid-19, including gas projects, road construction and a new nuclear power plant. It also suspended environmental and nature protections, by speeding up construction and development permits. The rights of campaigners to challenge such development projects were changed so that most of the country’s environmental and conservation NGOs are not eligible to challenge them in the courts until the end of 2021, when many projects will already be in progress.

It’s all mine

Analysis by a worldwide coalition of NGOs found that mining companies have used ‘any means necessary’ to continue working, including lobbying to weaken measures that limit the negative impacts of their activities and pushing to be categorized as an ‘essential’ service. This has put local communities and company workforces at risk, particularly in rural and indigenous areas where people are already more vulnerable to Covid-19. Meanwhile, governments have tried to shut down resistance, in some cases deploying military and the police. Canadian company Yamana Gold has reportedly taken advantage of the shutdown to advance its Suyai exploration-stage project in the province of Chubut, Argentina, where mining has been banned since 2003. In May, people took to the streets for a socially distanced protest and many received threats form the police.

Plastic is back

No longer a relic of our more destructive past, plastic has made a comeback thanks to Covid-19. Industry lobbyists have been sure to capitalize on this moment, calling on governments and executives to delay or relax legislation on single-use plastic. ‘At a time when people need factual medical research to inform their decisions around protecting their families, the plastics industry has worked to exploit our fears for profit,’ said Ivy Schlegel from Greenpeace USA. In June, over 125 health experts from 19 countries published a statement to reassure people that reusables were still safe to use.1 Plastic production relies heavily on fossil fuels and petrochemical plants are often located in low-income and minority neighbourhoods – the same communities that in countries like the US and Britain are most impacted by Covid-19.

Getting back in the skies

As countries tried to curtail the spread of Covid-19 by restricting travel, the air travel industry took a massive hit. Before Covid-19 took hold the industry seemed unstoppable. Greenhouse-gas emissions from commercial air travel were growing faster than predicted. One study estimated that by 2050, plane emissions would take up a quarter of the world’s ‘carbon budget’. Covid-19 forced us to break our flying habits but instead of supporting workers into greener jobs, governments began to bail out the industry. Industry lobbyists worked hard to make this happen and to gain other concessions. In April, European Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said in an interview that it was the wrong time to attach climate and environment conditions to state aid for airlines.

Full of gas

In the Australian state of Victoria, gas has been given the green light during Covid-19 shutdowns. The Victorian parliament lifted a moratorium on onshore gas development in June and in July; two permits were granted for offshore gas exploration. The announcement was called ‘deeply disappointing’ by environmental campaigners who are concerned about the impact on marine life and fisheries. ‘There can be no doubt that seismic testing will impact on marine life, including whales,’ said Friends of the Earth co-ordinator Cam Walker in a statement. Local fishers in Victoria have previously reported an 80-per-cent drop in catch in the wake of seismic testing.

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