São Paulo, Brazil, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Carlos Alkmin / Getty Images

The article urges the scientific and policy communities to work together to use the pandemic recovery period to spur transformational change that can address urgent, linked global issues. The authors argue that the acute challenge of the global pandemic should not  compromise “efforts to tackle the world’s inescapable, linked, and ongoing challenges of climate change, poor air quality, unsustainable development, and the loss of biodiversity”.

The authors write, “How we decide to stimulate the economy in response to the covid-19 virus can have enormous impacts on these longstanding global threats,” the authors note. “As governments apply economic stimulus efforts, it is more important than ever that these make the connection between health, air pollution, climate, and the environment. By addressing climate, air pollution, and sustainable development as an integrated problem, we can identify technologies, lifestyle changes, and policy solutions which achieve multiple near-term benefits efficiently, sustainably, and often at lower cost than solutions that no not consider both the economy and the environment.”

The authors identify solutions that can deliver economic and social objectives and, at the same time, protect air and climate. They outline eight categories that warrant investment and attention:

  • Developing, deploying and integrating the use of clean, renewable energy instead of fossil fuels to ensure equitable and affordable access for all.
  • Implementing measures that reduce short-lived climate pollutants by addressing emissions from the burning or collection of municipal solid waste. These measures are often low/no-cost, and quickly achieve multiple-near term economic, public health, and social benefits, the authors note.
  • Adopting policies and regulations that improve indoor air quality by incentivizing energy access and energy efficiency of buildings and appliances.
  • Preserving and expanding forests and other natural sinks.
  • Creating sustainable food systems, reducing food waste, and promoting healthy diets.
  • Establishing more local, circular and, low-carbon economies that incentivize safe reuse, remanufacturing and recycling of products.
  • Creating resilient supply chains.
  • Making transport systems sustainable by encouraging active travel, working from home, and implementing policies to reduce both daily commuting and business travel.
  • Investing in knowledge institutions, especially in the Global South, to strengthen capability to produce high-quality and context-relevant analyses, and to build the requisite human resources.