By Mark Watts, Executive Director of C40 Cities

With global cases now continuing to rise above 20 million and more than 750,000 dead, there’s no question that COVID-19 is one of the biggest crises of our lifetimes. As measures to combat the virus push the global economy into the deepest recession since World War II, the scale of the pandemic’s impact on livelihoods is being revealed. In April, the UN estimated that 1.6 billion people employed in the informal economy – almost half the global workforce – risk losing their jobs as a result of reduced working hours caused by lockdowns, while an optimistic scenario for OECD countries sees unemployment reaching 9.2%.

It’s clear that we need an economic recovery plan that will create good jobs, fast. It’s also increasingly clear that investment in the green economy will both produce some of the quickest impacts and achieve the most long-lasting benefits. According to The International Energy Agency, a sustainable recovery plan based on investment in clean energy could save or create around 9 million jobs a year over the next three years, while a paper by the economists Joseph Stiglitz and Nick Stern says that every $1 million spent on renewables infrastructure generates 7.5 full-time jobs, for energy efficiency the figure is 7.7, but for each $1m “invested” in fossil fuels only 2.65 jobs are created.

Megacities, as economic powerhouses with local knowledge and powers over transport, planning and buildings, are well placed to drive an economic recovery based on investment in clean jobs –  indeed, many were actively driving the shift to a green economy before the pandemic. In July this year, a coalition of global megacities released the C40 Mayors’ Agenda for a Green and Just Recovery, setting out their vision for a recovery based on investment in green jobs in cities and calling on national governments and institutions to prioritise clean energy investment, public transit and inclusivity as part of recovery plans.

So it’s been my privilege this week to join Re-energise Australia: A clean jobs summit for local government, to share how global cities are tackling the economic recovery through investment in green jobs. As in many countries, the Australian jobs market has been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, with recent estimates forecasting a drop in employment by 10% by the end of this year. This comes in addition to the prospect of job losses in the country’s coal mining industry, as the rapidly declining costs of renewables hit the sector. But a report by the Australian Climate Council found that thousands of clean jobs can be generated through investment in shovel-ready green projects, such as renewable energy, retrofitting of buildings, installation of EV charging points and urban greening projects. Much of this can be delivered by local governments.

Prior to the pandemic, Australian megacities were already showing what can be done to drive the clean energy transition, despite inaction by federal government – both Sydney and Melbourne run on 100% locally-sourced renewable power, supporting jobs and cutting emissions. The same cities are now leading on ensuring that recovery is green. Melbourne is fast tracking 40km of new bike lanes, while its plan to green the city with 150,000 trees and shrubs will not only support biodiversity, combat climate breakdown and reduce the urban heat island effect, but will also create jobs for people who would otherwise be unemployed as a result of the pandemic. The City of Sydney has installed new cycle infrastructure in record time, to keep up with rising demand for safe bike lanes, and moreover has made all of its COVID-19 financial assistance conditional on alignment to the city’s environmental goals and has also pioneered the use of artificial intelligence to measure green jobs in the local area. 

Local governments in Australia seeking to reboot their economies through investment in clean jobs can also look to global cities for inspiration. The city of Los Angeles has partnered with the largest solar and battery energy storage system in the US, helping the city reach its target of 55% renewable energy by 2050 and creating good paying jobs, while New York City has launched a Green Jobs Corps to train workers with new skills needed for low-carbon construction. Seoul is creating thousands of green jobs with a zero emission building retrofit and a plan to install solar panels on every public building and a quarter of the city’s homes. 

The green recovery is happening, and it’s cities who are leading it. 

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