Beyond COvid: The Digest

The accelerating pace of environmental breakdown

September 14, 2020
  • In a week dominated by the scandal around the Government’s Internal Market Bill - which stands to break international law - a lot of important environmental news has flown under the radar. This week's Focus section brings together the most recent news and research on the environmental emergency.
  • Registration is open for this Friday's webinar on job creation with Frances O'Grady (General Secretary, TUC), Matthew Taylor (Chief Executive, RSA) and Alice Martin (Labour Specialist, PIRC).
  • Read our In Brief and Reflections sections for the latest research and analysis around economic recovery and reform Beyond Covid.

In Focus: The accelerating pace of environmental breakdown

  • Wildfires - the scale and intensity of which have shocked even environmental scientists - continue to ravage the West Coast of the US, serving as the latest reminder that environmental breakdown is happening now.
  • Meanwhile, new research last week revealed the death toll of air pollution in Europe.
  • ~~The European Environment Agency found that 1 in 8 deaths in the EU can be linked to pollution.
  • ~~The CBI found that improving air quality in England in line with WHO guidelines could prevent 17,000 premature deaths and bolster the economy by £1.6bn each year.
  • Losing control: while emissions will fall this year due to lockdown measures, the UN’s “United In Science” report has confirmed that this will not slow the pace of climate breakdown.
  • ~~The report also found that Earth is set to temporarily pass the dangerous 1.5C warming limit by 2024 (explainer here).
  • ~~A new visual essay for Bloomberg Green has detailed how “humanity is losing the race against heat”.
  • ~~Catastrophic changes in the Arctic are happening decades earlier than expected, with the Greenland ice shelf beginning to shatter.
  • ~~It is crucial that governments follow a “strong green recovery” to prevent climate breakdown from spiralling beyond human control.
  • The failure of neoclassical economics: While climate scientists have long warned of the catastrophic impacts of the environmental emergency, some influential “climate economists” have been far more sanguine.
  • ~~A new research paper - “The appallingly bad neoclassical economics of climate change” - has outlined how the methods used by some leading climate economists are misleading and dangerous (explainer here).
  • Environmental breakdown requires socioeconomic systems to be transformed, making them more sustainable, equitable and resilient.
  • ~~As a UN science body has concluded, this requires a “fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values”.
  • ~~The UK’s first citizens’ climate assembly, commissioned by six select committees in response to Extinction Rebellion’s demands, has issued its final report.
  • ~~Recommendations include a frequent flyer tax, nationalisation of public transport and a government drive to reduce meat consumption.
  • ~~A number of MPs, environmental experts and civil society leaders are mobilising behind a “Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill”.
  • ~~A coalition of investors representing $47 trillion in assets has demanded net-zero plans from the world’s top emitting companies.

Watch our latest webinar: Lord Jim O'Neill and Heidi Chow of Global Justice Now unpack the debate surrounding patents, innovation, and the relationship between public funding and private pharmaceutical companies.

In brief

  • Job creation: A coalition of Labour leaders, including Gordon Brown and the UK’s Metro Mayors, launched the Alliance for Full Employment to “mobilise all the resources of the United Kingdom to end the recession and create good, quality jobs across our nations and regions.”
  • ~~This week's webinar ‘Avoiding mass unemployment: job creation after Covid-19’ will explore these issues with Frances O’Grady (General Secretary, TUC), Matthew Taylor (Chief Executive, RSA) and Alice Martin (Labour Specialist, PIRC).
  • Brexit: "State aid" has become a key sticking point in UK-EU negotiations (explainer here), especially since the UK appears to be agreeing to stricter arrangements in its trade deal with Japan.
  • ~~For wider context, see IPPR's briefing on EU state aid rules and Brexit here.
  • Meeting net zero: The Institute for Government finds the government’s net-zero plans lacking, suggesting “a lack of coordinated policies, constant changes of direction, a failure to gain public consent for measures and too little engineering expertise and delivery capability has left the UK well off track to meet its target".
  • Green investment: The CBI has outlined its suggestions for how the Government could “galvanise private investment” to deliver a green recovery from the pandemic, including the establishment of a new national infrastructure bank.
  • Social security reform: In a new report from the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, Dr Hilary Cottam argues for investment to create a new social settlement: Welfare 5.0.
  • Data policy: Last week the Government published its National Data Strategy and details of its stakeholder engagement.
  • ~~ICYMI, Common Wealth and IPPR published reports on the political economy of data this summer.


  • Climate justice: Rich countries must commit to proper financial support for poorer and environmentally-vulnerable countries in the next round of international climate negotiations, argues Zoha Shawoo of the Stockholm Environment Institute.
  • "How They Made Us Doubt": Peter Pomerantsev explores how the disinformation tactics used to stymie action on smoking have been applied to climate science for BBC Radio.
  • Charity versus taxes: Paul Valley writes for the Guardian on the architecture, ethics and socioeconomic impacts of private philanthropy.
  • Industrial strategy: The Euro needs an EU-wide industrial policy to survive, argues Professor Xavier Vives (IESE Business School) for Project Syndicate.
  • Central banks need to be greener: Kate Mackenzie writes for Bloomberg on how attempted central bank 'neutrality' supports the unsustainable status quo and undermines green recovery efforts.

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