A green recovery

Jake Woodier on the climate activists challenging corporate bailouts for the world’s polluters

Calling for a green economic recovery from Covid-19 near the British Parliament.
Credit: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Nurphoto/PA images

Many economies are now facing their worst downturn in more than a generation. Administrations across the world have agreed on Covid-19 financial rescue packages, designed to keep economies afloat in the short-term, including a stimulus package of more than $2 trillion from the federal government in the US and many hundreds of billions more from across the Eurozone and G20. While some of the bailout money has gone directly to people who’ve lost jobs and income because of the pandemic, critics have warned that much of it is simply a transfer of wealth from the public purse to the corporate world, including the world’s worst polluters. Capitalism loves disaster. 

These short-term fixes to our economic woes could have long-term impacts on our ability to combat climate change. Government economic recovery plans will either set us on a pathway to limit the warming of the Earth to below 1.5°C, or smash through an already low carbon ceiling from which there is no return.

It’s terrifying stuff, but climate activists have been finding ways to mobilize. In the US, a collection of youth groups, including the International Indigenous Youth Council and Sunrise Movement, took their activism digital on Earth Day, in April, to demand a People’s Bailout. Across 72 hours, digital performances and talks were organized to highlight com­munity building, storytelling, divest­ment, climate financing and political engagement. These were complemented by hundreds of local livestreams to connect organizers, skill up, and invite discussion on movement building, climate justice and racial injustice, to name a few. Among demands focusing on meeting people’s economic and health needs, the diverse coalition behind the events is calling for a rejection of corporate bailouts for fossil- fuel executives driving the climate crisis. This push complements pressure exerted on the US congress by over 300 organizations, for the legislative body to ensure polluters don’t get a single cent of bailout cash.

Meanwhile, in Britain, climate action charity Possible teamed up with the legal team at Leigh Day solicitors to warn the British Chancellor that government bailout support for airlines could be unlawful on climate grounds. In the wake of passenger numbers plummeting, airlines have faced a monumental fiscal challenge and have requested hundreds of millions in government loans and support. As global aviation is a major contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions, campaigners are keen to ensure strict environmental and climate conditions, and protection of workers, are enmeshed in any rescue packages.

In South Korea, a coalition of green groups including Gyeongnam Korean Federation for Environmental Movements opposed the State’s financial support for Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction Co., which builds coal-fired power plants. The coalition sought a legal injunction to block financial assistance totalling over $800m, though the corporation has since secured further government assistance.

A coalition of 265 civic society groups called on Chinese authorities to guarantee that Covid-19 financial relief will not bail out fossil-fuel, mining and infrastructure projects in the Belt and Road programme. The organizations, hailing from countries ranging from Bulgaria to Ghana and Brazil to Uzbekistan, urge that projects must adhere to strict environmental and social conditions.

Understanding the poignancy of the current moment, climate campaigners are trying to set the world on a distinctly different pathway and put an end to the fossil-fuel extractivist economy responsible for devastating communities around the world and the artificially induced heating of the Earth. Supporting efforts that challenge bailouts and stimulus for the world’s polluters is vital if we are to stand any chance of ensuring climate breakdown doesn’t run away from us.