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Quarterly Issue 3 Special Report – A fair and sustainable recovery

A green recovery: a post-COVID future

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 15 Sep 2020

green intro

Choices made in the aftermath of COVID-19 will shape society for decades to come. So, being clear about the objectives of a green recovery is vital to ensure actions lead to desired outcomes, writes Michael Holder

From quieter roads and cleaner air to the respite from daily commutes, the pandemic has left its mark, and in its wake a palpable desire do things differently.

Just 6% of UK adults want to return to the same type of economy as before the pandemic, according to a YouGov survey published in June, while in another, 62% said they favoured making environmental concerns central to the economic recovery. And an open letter from 350 leading figures from business, finance, trade unions, charities, arts organisations and religious groups in June called for a ‘stronger, greener, fairer country’ after COVID-19.

After all, the spectre of a climate catastrophe which drove rising levels of concern and activism prior to the pandemic hasn’t gone away, nor has the UK’s legal obligation to make the transition to a net zero emissions economy by 2050. 

Studies from world-renowned economists in a paper for the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford show that investing in a green recovery would deliver a far better outcome for economic growth, jobs and resilience. The European Union is seeking to align its recovery with its Green Deal policy ambitions, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly promised to ‘build back greener’ after COVID-19. 

Even so, building a green recovery remains a tall order, with strong foundations for change needed across every section of society, from national and local government to business, finance and the third sector.

That puts the accounting profession in a critical position to steer the recovery, says James Close, head of the Circular Economy Programme at the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB), and a member of ICAEW’s Energy and Natural Resources Group.

“We would never forgive ourselves if we didn’t take advantage of this opportunity to not just build back better, but build forward better with resilience,’ he says. ‘We should think about how we measure business decisions not just in terms of return on investment for capital, but also in terms of social and environmental impact and returns.”

By working behind the scenes to combat risk and hardwire green governance, accountants are crucial to laying a smooth path to recovery from the current crisis, while also driving the transformational changes needed to avoid the next.