Environmental and economic benefits of sustainable development

Clean and renewable energy, low emissions, protection of human health and the environment, new jobs: these are the pillars for a green restart

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The crisis generated by the pandemic is one of the most serious in the history of modern society. Considering the extent of the economic damages, it is necessary to identify a strategy able to guarantee positive results both in the short and long term. The strategy, however, can’t be disconnected from the concept of sustainable development, both for economic and environmental reasons.

For this reason, in order to make possible a development model compatible with the environmental issue, it’s necessary to undertake not only an energy transition process, but also interventions in all the most polluting sectors to make human activities less impactful and economically convenient.

Potentials of a green restart

From the report “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?” published in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy, which involved world-renowned economists including Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2001 and Nicholas Stern, emerges that investments dedicated to a more sustainable and attentive development to issues environmental, climatic and economic, guarantee an increase in employment and higher returns in the short and long term.

In fact, it has been estimated that “every million dollars of expenditure generates 7.49 full-time jobs in infrastructure for renewable energy, 7.72 in energy efficiency and only 2.65 in fossil fuels”.

According to the study, therefore, recovery strategies must combine economic objectives with environmental policies. This is the only way to achieve better growth prospects in the short and long term. The study commissioned by Greenpeace Italia to the Institute for Sustainable Futures in Sydney (ISF) ,also, demonstrates how an energy revolution in the Country could provide enormous economic, employment and environmental benefits.

The scenario promoted by Greenpeace Italy, which is consistent with the Paris Agreement, demonstrates the feasibility of a scenario of total decarbonisation for our Country by 2040 and provides for the achievement of a share of renewable electricity production equal to 75% in 2030 and 100% in 2040.

Considering an increase in the share of electricity produced from renewable sources, the goal will be to revolutionize the transport system, electrifying consumption, investing more in public transport and in forms of shared and alternative mobility.

To make this scenario possible, major investments in the electricity sector of 37 billion between 2020 and 2030 are required, but it is also necessary to consider a saving on fossil fuel costs of 36.5 billion (and that the savings between 2030 and 2050 would exceed the investment costs). From an employment point of view, by 2030, 163000 jobs could be generated in the energy sector.

Possible interventions for a more sustainable future

In order to be consistent with the principles of sustainable development, it isn’t only necessary to proceed with a process of decarbonisation and energy transition, but it is necessary to intervene in those particularly polluting sectors to make them more compatible with environmental protection.

For example, interventions could be dedicated to reduce environmental impacts in the construction sector, promoting the regeneration of urban areas and the spread of the principles of sustainable architecture. In particular, the use of low impact materials, but also with high performance in terms of thermal insulation, should be encouraged to create zero net energy structures and buildings, capable of producing energy equal to the energy consumed in a year, with consequent economic benefits (savings in utility bills) and environmental benefits (less energy consumption).

Furthermore, investments can be directed in the agricultural sector, using digital technologies, to minimize the consumption of water and other resources. This is agriculture 4.0 which offers the opportunity to optimize crop yields, avoiding waste and reducing production costs.

By combining the experience and knowledge of the farmer with digital technologies, the typical problems of the sector (diseases, pests, incorrect dosage of fertilizer, etc.) could be prevented by making agricultural production more reliable, less expensive and more sustainable.

So, for Italy and for the other countries affected by the inevitable crisis generated by the pandemic, paradoxically a new opportunity arises to create a development model in which economic growth and environmental protection are not unrelated factors, but inevitably connected between them. In other words, it is about creating a truly sustainable development model.

Clean and renewable energy, low emissions, protection of human health and new jobs, therefore, should be the pillars for a sustainable restart and to overcome the post-Coronavirus economic crisis, not to make mistakes of the past and to believe in a healthier future.