This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders – from around the world and all parts of society – address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. It aims to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge. Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
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Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, both governments and companies have responded to largely common imperatives: protecting their people and ensuring the continuity of vital operations (in the case of ENGIE, ranging from the supply of energy to services supporting hospitals, the food chain or municipalities).
In addition, governments have stepped up to respond to the economic needs of the people and to provide relief to the companies affected by the crisis. While the most vulnerable have suffered – as evidenced by the rise of unemployment, lines for food banks in some countries and bankruptcies in many – governments’ emergency policies have been instrumental in reducing the violence of the shock and the risk of widespread, lasting effects on supply and demand.
While companies have endeavoured to limit the adverse impact of the crisis on their economic balances, preserving their future, they, too, have played their part to soften the shock, at their own scale – in our case, supporting smaller suppliers though accelerated payments, allowing rescheduling of payments due by households and companies and ensuring all employees were socially insured worldwide.
These convergent efforts between governments and the private sector must now move to the next level. In most of our countries, economic activity can and must now resume, in safe conditions, for our societies to continue to be able to provide for their citizens.
The COVID-19 crisis, and the way we fought against it, should act as a wake-up call and as source for inspiration.
While the COVID-19 crisis is a testimony of how interconnected our countries are and of human vulnerabilities, and while it has resulted in a lot of grief, it can only give a very pale idea of what a climate change crisis would be.
On a more positive note, the crisis has showed us the energy men and women are able to mobilise in face of adversity – unprecedented team work in our hospitals and across sectors, a sense of purpose and recognition for those engaged in essential activities, radical changes in our ways of working – and still being productive. In the face of terrible adversity, human adaptability has found a way to express itself stronger and faster than ever before. It has also showed us that radical changes are not out of reach, but can be quick, massive and convincing.
After dealing with economic emergency needs, it is time for government action to gradually switch to supporting the recovery, and for companies to play their part, too. In economic downturns, the first virtue of an additional expenditure is to increase activity. But public and private investments in the next few months will create capital and be the backbone of our economies for decades to come, and public money is scarce.
As the fiscal balances have been heavily affected by the crisis, and public action does not have unlimited means, let us make sure that the recovery plans being drafted will create long-term value, increase the resilience and cohesion of our societies and help us accelerate our move to avoid the climate change crisis.
As a company active worldwide, focused on offering environmentally-friendly solutions to both reduce and green energy consumption, and in line with our purpose, or “raison d’être” to “reconcile economic performance with a positive impact on people and the planet”, ENGIE has been working to identify investments that meet these criteria in our areas of expertise. We focused on projects that are already part of public policies, especially long-term energy policies. This makes them all the more readily available to foster a quick recovery.
We identified four areas to work on: improve energy efficiency of tertiary buildings and collective housing; renovate and decarbonise major public infrastructures such as hospitals, campuses and urban areas; support the relocation of industry by enabling it to become greener; and speed up projects in renewable gas and electricity.
These investments have a strong job potential, and some require limited public money. The recovery they will foster will decarbonise industry and energy, create jobs through innovation and build better public goods for the ones who most need them, and benefit disproportionately from public investment in education and health.
By focusing on long-term goals, and increasing the resiliency of our societies – be it in front of pandemics or climate change – we can design a productive recovery together, one that does not only re-create activity but also moves the economy in the right direction.
The next stage is already underway. In the national, European and global recovery plans, the energy and climate transition should have a crucial place. ENGIE is ready to respond.
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