APEC pushes for Covid-19 ‘green recovery’ amid concern

APEC members have placed an emphasis on sustainability and resilience in a meeting to discuss domestic reforms – but there is growing fear that the chance for a “green recovery” from Covid-19 is being missed

New Zealand has led a push from APEC members to build back better from the coronavirus pandemic, in the face of concerns the shoots of a green recovery are being trampled by a short-term focus on emerging from economic slumps.

The impacts of climate change, the conflict between domestic and international agendas and the importance of economic stimulus were among the topics of discussion at an APEC structural reform ministerial meeting on Wednesday, held virtually by New Zealand as part of its hosting year.

In a joint statement released after the meeting, the APEC ministers said the significant disruptions to supply chains and labour markets, intensified volatility of financial markets, and increased inequality as a result of the pandemic meant now was a crucial time for countries to build resilience through their economic recoveries.

“We pledge to work together on the new structural reform agenda that supports economic recovery from the pandemic and promotes growth-focused reforms designed to be inclusive, resilient, sustainable and innovation-friendly.”

The ministers endorsed an “enhanced” APEC structural reform agenda covering the grouping’s work for the next five years, with four main pillars of work: creating an enabling environment for open, transparent and competitive markets; boosting business recovery and resilience against future shocks; ensuring all societal groups had equal access to opportunities for sustainable growth and wellbeing; and using innovation and new technology to boost productivity and digitalisation.

“We urge economies to pursue international regulatory cooperation to help strengthen economies’ competitiveness; reduce barriers to cross-border trade and investment; promote seamless connectivity and resilient supply chains; support the growth of the digital economy; and address the challenges of a complex, interconnected and rapidly changing world.”

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister David Clark acted as the meeting chair, and told Newsroom after the meeting the discussion had served as an important reminder “that collaboration, cooperation and integration are key to all of us flourishing”.

“You can’t do without other economies in the modern world, they’re key to shared prosperity for all of us.”

A number of APEC members had issued warnings about the economic challenges posed by climate change and the need for a sustainable recovery from the pandemic.

“To spend these trillions of dollars and not use this occasion to reverse the trends and massively invest in the green economy will be an unforgivable lost opportunity.”

While talk of a “green recovery” has become commonplace, some are sceptical about whether nations are following through on their rhetoric.

In an interview with The Guardian last week, United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned the world was “coming to a point of no return” as countries put billions more dollars into fossil fuels than clean energy.

“To spend these trillions of dollars and not use this occasion to reverse the trends and massively invest in the green economy will be an unforgivable lost opportunity,” Guterres said.

The gap between wealthy countries’ green commitments at home and the climate aid they were offering abroad has also been called into question.

A report last year from the Christian Aid charity said the low carbon measures planned by many countries were “almost entirely focused within their own borders”, threatening to reinforce existing inequality.

“Without support, poorer nations facing multiple crises may choose the short-term benefits of restarting their economies using cheap and dirty coal, wiping out much of the climate gains made elsewhere.”

Clark said the issue of “competing national and international interests in policy-making” had come up during the meeting, but there was a shared view of the importance of trade to global prosperity and a strong emphasis on the green recovery.

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister David Clark chaired an APEC meeting on structural reform. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

“All of the economies there have endorsed the agenda – these agendas are carefully negotiated because economies want to be clear to their citizens that when they speak on the global stage, it’s about things they want to see done.”

Clark said there was also a focus on having well-targeted economic interventions which helped to upskill employees for the changing nature of work and supported vulnerable groups such as women, along with the importance of economic stimulus to provide social support.

However, the ministerial statement seemed to fall short of a push from the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) for “coordinated domestic fiscal stimulus measures at the regional level” to boost the Covid economic recovery.

In a May letter to Clark, ABAC 2021 chairwoman Rachel Taulelei said there was an urgent need for structural reforms covering both the immediate recovery from Covid-19 as well as the medium-term challenges of technological evolution and climate change.

“Significant structural reforms are required to address the impacts of these disruptive forces and ensure transformation of our economies through markets that are competitive, inclusive and sustainable.”

Clark told Newsroom ABAC’s letter had been acknowledged during the meeting, with officials set to pick up and develop the challenges and recommendations it contained.

By Sam Sachdeva

This article was originally shared by Newsroom.