Earth Day: UN chief warns world is facing a bigger threat than coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic may already be having an impact on global pollution levels but it is hoped that recovery from the crisis will put the world on track to a greener future.

Online events are being held to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with video messages from Pope Francis, Al Gore, Elizabeth Warren, Zac Efron, Roger Waters, Josh Lucas and Dave Matthews.

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres has said the recovery from the pandemic must be turned into a real opportunity to do things right for the future.

While the impact of COVID-19 was both “immediate and dreadful” and countries must work together to save lives and lessen the consequences of the pandemic, he said there was “another, even deeper emergency – the planet’s unfolding environmental crisis”.

“Biodiversity is in steep decline. Climate disruption is approaching a point of no return.

“We must act decisively to protect our planet from both the coronavirus and existential threat of of climate disruption.”

Air pollution and smog levels appeared to have dropped in many cities worldwide due to the grounding of aeroplanes and low levels of vehicle traffic on roads.

Mr Guterres has called for the huge amounts of money that will be spent on recovery to deliver new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition.

Where taxpayers’ money is spent rescuing businesses it should be tied to achieving green jobs and sustainable growth, he said, and should flow to sustainable sectors – suggesting he does not want countries to bail out the struggling oil industry.

Fuel subsidies must end and polluters must start paying for their pollution, he warned, adding the financial system and all areas of public policy-making and infrastructure must factor in climate risks and opportunities.

A green recovery from the pandemic has been backed by the Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA) which includes the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, whose members include major medical organisations and associations.

Jeni Miller, GCHA executive director, said: “We won’t get another shot at this: only a global green recovery can sustain a safe and healthy future for all.

“Our health is a truly global issue: we must choose a sustainable path for our planet, to prevent further crises and protect lives.”

In the UK the Green Party has said that a “green new deal” has to be central to any post-coronavirus recovery package.

The party wants to see investment in making all homes warmer and more energy efficient, a revolution in the country’s transport system and a rapid roll out of renewable energy across the country, which it says would create hundreds of thousands of low carbon jobs.

Elsewhere on Earth Day, Surfers Against Sewage is launching a new digital ‘beach clean’ campaign, #ReturnToOffender, urging the public to document branded plastic pollution during their permitted daily walks and upload them on social media to challenge companies to tackle the plastic problem.

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