Last year it became obvious that the pandemic was going to put a serious dent in the global economy. Countries starting thinking about stimulus plans and economic recovery. Campaigners rallied around the idea of building back better. Don’t let a good crisis go to waste, as they say. How can we create a green recovery that doubles up on the benefits – protecting jobs and businesses while also creating a more sustainable future?
This is indisputably obvious, which is why so many politicians talked up their plans. As Boris Johnson said last summer “it’s more important than ever that we keep up the pace of change to fuel a green, sustainable recovery as we rebuild from the pandemic.”
With the best part of a year passed, we can now tell how serious that talk was. And the reality is that in many countries it was mostly talk. There may have been new funding directed towards climate change and the energy transition, but it was outweighed by new roads, airports and business as usual. World leaders have spectacularly failed to grasp the opportunity that was staring them in the face.
But I don’t want to complain about those failures today. I want to point out an unexpected champion. Here’s a graph of countries’ economic recovery plans from the Global Recovery Observatory at Oxford. It tracks the size of the spending across the horizontal – the larger the spend, the further to the right. On the vertical axis we see the percentage of that spending that has been directed towards ‘green’ investments. Spot the outlier.
So far, 100% of Turkey’s stimulus spending qualifies as green, in this particular study. That makes it the world leader on the green recovery.
This is kind of a surprise, since Turkey has shown very little interest in climate change in the past. It’s also not a surprise, since ignoring the issue for so long has left Turkey dependent on coal and imported gas even though it has abundant renewable energy possibilities that would be cheaper – so it was going to shift eventually and it might as well be now.
It’s early days yet. Turkey could announce free coal for everyone tomorrow and blow that 100% record. And it does depend on how you define and calculate ‘green’ spending, and other studies are less positive about Turkey’s plans. So I’m not awarding the country my imaginary ‘greenest recovery award’ just yet. But someone’s going to win it, and they have a headstart.