Overcoming the crisis sustainably

Extracts from the third ad hoc statement of the National Academy of  Leopoldina of 13 April 2020

"In view of the deep traces that the coronavirus crisis will leave behind, but above all because of the at least equally threatening climate and biodiversity crisis, there can be no simple restoration of the previous status. Last but not least, lessons for the future must be learned from the experience with the coronavirus pandemic and its causes. The general increase in population, urbanisation and global mobility, the destruction and decrease in the resilience of ecosystems through land-use changes and climate change are major contributors to the outbreak of epidemics and pandemics.

Government measures that restart economic activity after the pandemic has subsided should therefore focus on sustainability criteria. A sustainable orientation of the investments and programmes now being carried out would give those involved the freedom to implement the necessary changes in a manner appropriate to the local and temporal circumstances, to create the urgently needed openness to technology, for example in the energy turnaround, to close regional and global material cycles, etc. If this opportunity is missed, the size of the current economic programmes would make a more drastic change of course at a later date extremely difficult. It is therefore difficult to overestimate the responsibility of those involved in seizing this historic opportunity. What is needed is a transparent discussion of costs that also takes into account the massive external costs of climate, environmental and, not least, health damage.

In concrete terms, the first task will be to initiate economic activities in such a way that the recession, which is inevitable this year, is not too severe and the economy returns to a growth path. This should, however, be more strongly determined by principles of sustainability than before, not least because this offers enormous potential for economic development. This requires decisive action on the part of economic policymakers. In all probability, further economic policy measures will be necessary beyond the measures now taken and despite the automatic stabilisers in the system (lower tax revenues, labour market policy measures). On the revenue side, these include tax policy instruments such as the introduction of loss carry-backs and the facilitation of loss carry-forwards for companies (abolition of minimum taxation), a temporary transition to declining-balance depreciation and the bringing forward of partial relief from the solidarity surcharge. The complete abolition of the solidarity surcharge should be considered. On the expenditure side, government investment and the reduction of subsidies that are harmful to the climate and the environment are obvious. Priority should be given to structural policy objectives, for example with regard to public services of general interest and the protection of common goods, especially in the areas of health, climate and ecosystem protection."

Setting the course for sustainability

"All political measures that do not serve the immediate rescue of companies must be guided by the principle of sustainability at both national and international level. Therefore, the following measures, based on broad scientific evidence and a broad social consensus, must continue to be implemented with high priority. The development of a climate-friendly economy and a consistent turnaround in mobility and agriculture provide essential impulses for innovation and growth. These include the immediate introduction of a price for fossil CO2, the adoption and implementation of the national hydrogen strategy as soon as possible, and the reorganisation of the electricity market. The goal must remain a strong European "Green Deal"."