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COVID-19: The view from Greenpeace

The COVID-19 crisis has created challenges to our daily lives, communities and the global economy on a scale that would have been unimaginable only a few months ago. Within a matter of weeks, we saw the three biggest environmental moments of 2020 postponed: the UN meeting where a treaty to protect the global oceans was to be agreed; COP26 in Glasgow, where crucial discussions on international climate action were to be had; and the Convention on Biological Diversity, where forest and ocean protection would be a key issue.

At the same time, the need to act on the pandemic has meant new challenges for much of Greenpeace’s core work. Our volunteers aren’t out on the streets talking to people about environmental issues; politicians and companies are less open to meetings with our campaigners as they struggle with immediate priorities; our ships have been stuck in port and our scientists limited in their ability to get out in the field. Furthermore, while we are juggling the complexities of lockdown for our staff, many events that would usually be crucial to our fundraising (including a whole summer of festivals) have been cancelled or postponed. This means we will recruit 20,000 fewer new donors than expected this year, resulting in a loss of about £1 million, so we’re more grateful than ever to those major donors and foundations that stand with us.

However, Greenpeace has a long history of reacting and adapting to changing world events – and that is exactly what we are doing.

Right now, governments are injecting trillions into the global economy to keep it afloat. With this unprecedented amount of money available, it is our job to ensure that, rather than propping up old industries that are fuelling the climate and nature crisis, governments direct that money towards a greener, more resilient economy that puts people and the planet first. Our response – ‘A Green Recovery: How We Get There’ – is a series of practical policy demands that, if implemented, would put us on course for a green economy that provides well-paid, sustainable jobs and offers a safer, more resilient future for us all. This means sustainable transport, renewable energy, a healthy food system, energy efficient housing and a proper response to climate change.

One of Greenpeace’s strengths is holding governments and corporations to account – showing up, en masse, to their front doors in visual and confrontative ways. Initially, it felt like COVID-19 had made this impossible going forward. But, with some creative thinking, Greenpeace offices around the world have continued to make these issues impossible to ignore. From lighting up the Houses of Parliament with a call for green jobs, to hologram protests outside government buildings across Europe, here are some inspiring ways our supporters, activists and volunteers have still managed to have their voices heard.

There has also been more opportunity to collaborate with others in the sector, both nationally and internationally, to ensure our messages cut through and have greater impact. Together with 25 other groups we wrote to the UK Chancellor to ask him to provide airline bailouts that would protect workers, the public, the wider economy, and the planet – not shareholders and the airline owners. We also worked with WWF to send the Brazilian government a letter signed by 41 companies, including Tesco and Burger King. The letter voiced concern and threatened a trade boycott over the proposed ‘land grab bill’ that they were trying to sneak through parliament while COVID-19 provided a distraction and less scrutiny in parliament. The bill, that would have legalised all historic land grabs, has now been postponed twice.

Now, in parallel with the pandemic, the outpouring of grief and demand for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and an overwhelming number of others, has reached far beyond the United States, including of course into the UK. More than ever it is vital that Greenpeace can give a global platform to those communities, more often than not people of colour, that are most affected by the nature and climate crises. We must amplify their messages around the world, as we did for the small-scale fisherfolk of Senegal on World Oceans Day: it was their voices, heard on a global stage, which made the Senegalese government reconsider the planned sale of fishing licenses to industrial giants. Environmental and social justice simply must go hand in hand.

While things can feel overwhelming, there is also good reason to feel optimistic. Our connection to and reliance on nature has become more evident than ever and we’ve demonstrated our ability as humans to adapt our lifestyles dramatically when we need to. The disruption we’re facing has injected urgency into the need to transition to a system based on respect for ecological boundaries, economic rights, and social justice. Greenpeace exists to ensure this can happen.

Pat Venditti is Programme Director at Greenpeace UK and is responsible for campaigns and campaign communications. He has in the past led Greenpeace’s global forest campaign which has played a key role in driving transformational change for the world’s rainforests. From front-line investigations and cutting edge campaigns, to brokering agreements with the world’s biggest corporations, Pat has a strong track record of working with and leading global teams to affect positive change.

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