Prof Edda Weimann, MD, MPH is Professor of Child Health and Public Health Specialist. She lectures Climate Change and Health at the University of Cape Town (SA) and TU Munich (Germany). She can be reached at Edda.Weimann@uct.ac.za.
Léa Weimann is a 4th year reader of International Relations and Sustainable Development at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, and elected Environment Officer at the St. Andrews Students’ Association. She recently published a non-profit poetry book called “Dear Earth” to question dominant realities, create the vision of a more peaceful and sustainable Earth and inspire citizens and politicians alike to take climate action. She can be reached at Lew8@st-andrews.ac.uk. Her website can be found here.
Munich, Germany | June 25, 2020 | Analysis Article
Based on international scientific evidence from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we are in a Climate Crisis with active irreversible climate tipping points, such as tundra, permafrost and drift ice decline in the Arctic and large-scale destruction of tropical rainforests in the Amazon basin and Indonesia (IPCC 2018; Lenton et al. 2019; University of Exeter 2019). Before humanity has completely used up its C02 budget (which is currently still compatible with human life), all climate tipping points are activated and a “point of no return” is reached, we have a maximum of 10 years left in which a substantial change with a significant reduction in our CO2 emissions is necessary to achieve climate neutrality (IPCC 2018; Lenton et al. 2019). The question of this article is which economic model could be applied to align the environmental demands with the world’s and specifically Germany’s economic ambitions.
Over the past months the corona pandemic has shown dramatic changes of our economies. On the bright sight the lockdown in China, Europe and North America have led to a significant, but unfortunately only temporary decline in industrial and transport-related emissions from fossil fuels (The Economic Times 2020). In addition to the 35% reduction in particulate pollution, nitrogen oxide pollution has decreased by an average of 40% in northern China, 20% in Western Europe and 38% in the United States during the corona lockdown. However, when regular road traffic and the economy resumed in early June 2020 at the end of the corona lockdown, air pollution bounced back to the pre-corona time level (Carrington & Kommenda 2020).
Economic growth is the golden concern for politicians and citizens alike, but how can we recover our economic system post-corona in an environmentally friendly way?
Rarely ever do we hear the question asked what lies beyond growth and GDP. Several projections clearly show that the standard economic models currently used are outdated and urgently need to be replaced by a new system that is more value oriented and considers the environmental requirements. What does the average citizen get from fossil fuel companies growing again by governmental subsidies and thus aggravating Climate Change? How could we ever believe in eternal economic growth on a finite planet? Why has “GDP growth” been unable to pull people out of poverty? How can we solve social inequality? Is humanity not drifting into deeper rifts of economic divide by pursuing the growth enigma? Which model can direct us onto a path towards a sustainable future? Can we embrace an economic model that makes us healthier and lead a more fulfilled life?
These questions have increasingly been asked by prominent economists who are challenging us to look for new economic models. Models that are fit for the 21st century. Models that do not perpetuate relentless financial crisis, extreme inequality and environmental destruction. One such pioneer is Kate Raworth, a senior lecturer at the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, who has proposed the Doughnut as a new economic model to tackle the challenges of the Anthropocene (Figure 1). The Doughnut economic model draws out the safe and just space for humanity to thrive within the Earth’s environmental boundaries and its social foundations (Raworth 2017). It illustrates how our world’s current economics have led to an overshoot beyond Earth’s carrying capacity and deeply into our world’s social foundation, thus leading to increasing inequality and a never-ending cycle of crisis (Raworth 2017).
The corona pandemic and its deep impact on society have further exposed how prone our systems are to crises and how great the need is to think of new innovative ways for rebuilding our society. Several economies are already adapting this model for the post corona economy. Amsterdam, for example, has committed to employing the Doughnut model to restructure, rebuild and recover from the effects of the pandemic (Carrington 2020b). Air France is financially supported under the condition that pro-climate actions are taken, such as carbon offsetting and replacement of national flights by train journeys (Air France 2019; Air France 2020).
Germany’s Hesitance to Move Forward
Germany as the biggest economy in Europe continues to hold on to the path of the past. Subsidising Lufthansa with billions of taxpayer money is counterproductive for sustainable living and a healthy planet. Even now the public has not yet been remedied for the severe health impacts caused by the Volkswagen diesel scandal (Chossière et al. 2017). By opening the new coal-fired power plant Datteln in June 2020, Germany’s policymakers continue to allow thousands of air pollution deaths caused by fine dust, nitrogen dioxide and ozone. These fine particle pollutants make up the highest proportion of public health damage caused by Climate Change (EEA 2015). In 2012, around 403,000 people died prematurely from the effects of air pollution in the EU (EEA 2015). Coal-fired power plants in the EU resulted in 18,200 premature deaths annually with healthcare costs of € 42.8 billion (Health and Environment 2013). People from regions of high air pollution appear to be more susceptible to premature death from COVID-19 infections, presumably from pre-damage to the airways (Carrington 2020a).
These relationships also make it clear that climate protection is always health protection.
In addition, the Coronavirus pandemic has offered us a unique opportunity to invest beyond growth: in the health and well-being of our planet and the people that live on it. In order to ensure the survival of our economies, we need to reframe and a draw a different picture of economic models beyond growth. Models that consider our human health and the health of our planet. A path beyond short term interest and profit growth for the industries that have already compromised life on Earth through their health impact and the manifestation of continuous social divide. It is time for Germany to follow and develop a new model of economics. One that is not addicted to unrealistic eternal growth but considers its social foundation and environmental ceiling. One that allocates resources to the places that need it most: such as health care workers and service personnel in German hospitals, such as renewable energy, and companies that are building for a sustainable future.
The good news is this new economic route does not have to be invented. The Doughnut economic model is ready for use. It is ready to take root on German soil. Sustainable development cannot be realised before transforming and adapting our economic systems. The time for change is long overdue and the responsibility to realise it is paramount to ensure a sustainable, healthy, and liveable future for all.
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