Seizing opportunities to benefit both the economy and the climate

The unprecedented health, social and economic impacts of the novel coronavirus have left virtually no home untouched. As some areas around the country move to reopen some businesses, and Congress eventually turns from immediate relief to longer-term economic recovery, an overriding priority will be putting people back to work as soon as possible. Many such efforts can at the same time reduce carbon emissions and build resilience to the rising impacts of climate change.

Our latest brief, Restoring the Economy with Climate Solutions, outlines steps that Congress can take to simultaneously address these twin crises.

In presenting these recommendations, our top priority is to target investment in ways that can quickly create jobs and produce other near-term economic benefits. The Labor Department reported record job losses in April, with unemployment soaring to 14.7 percent. Targeted investments in infrastructure – including electric vehicle charging systems and expanded broadband access – can both create jobs in the near term and strengthen the foundation for long-term growth.

We believe our investments in economic recovery should also have meaningful climate mitigation benefits. Tax credits for renewable energy, electric vehicles, and energy efficiency upgrades encourage consumer purchases to stimulate the economy while reducing carbon emissions. Programs like Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs) for federal buildings hire private contractors and support local economies, while reducing the carbon footprint and energy costs of those buildings.

Another priority is strengthening climate resilience. Many communities that are already reeling from the financial and public health impacts of COVID-19 may soon face extreme weather impacts like hurricanes and floods, even as they are forced to shift funding from disaster preparedness to public health response. With climate change as a “risk amplifier,” we need to prioritize proactive resilience efforts such as reducing wildfire risk and improving waste and water.

With this goes hand-in-hand the need to prioritize helping vulnerable communities. Poor communities and communities of color, already disproportionately impacted by climate change, are among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Rural communities are also particularly vulnerable to both public health and extreme weather disasters, making programs to support economic and infrastructure development like rural utility and weatherization improvements paramount to a strong recovery.

It also will be vital to deploy strategies that leverage private investment. Even in the midst of the pandemic, we see increasing numbers of companies strengthening their climate efforts by, for instance, adopting net-zero commitments. Many companies provided input to our recommendations to Congress and stand ready to invest in a wide range of low-carbon technology solutions.

Finally, timing is of the essence. To maximize impact, we should prioritize investments that can be quickly deployed through existing programs. Our recommendations call for funding and policy improvements to programs already in place, expediting the process of getting relief to those who need it most.

We encourage you to read our recommendations, which cover areas ranging from carbon capture to tree-planting to improved urban mobility. We hope that in the coming months lawmakers avail themselves of the many opportunities to rebuild our economy in ways that help prepare us for a low-carbon, climate-resilient future.