The Green Snapback

Our Director Nick Somes takes a look at how urban greening can help us navigate our way out of the depths of COVID-19
24 April 2020

Navigating the depths of COVID-19

As we deal with social isolation, home schooling and uncertain working futures, many policy groups and politicians are turning themselves to the recovery phase.

None of us know when it will end, and both State and Federal government will be looking for the next opportunities to stimulate the economy.

Now is the time for everybody to have an opinion and to be engaged in the debate as the programs are built by government to lift us out of the COVID-19 induced downturn.

To date we have had 3 packages that have been firmly and appropriately implemented, designed to stimulate economic activity and provide a safety net for the communities and business. The Australia Institute has done some research (found in this report) about the characteristics of good stimulus projects, and suggested some examples. Not surprisingly, revegetation and urban projects have scored very well in their analysis, and we should be working to provide further support to these programs.

Design Principles used to create a stimulus program

Design principles are the basis around which any stimulus program should be based, and the authors propose projects that fall into the categories in the table below.

The first three will be familiar to those can remember the Global Financial Crisis, where Go hard, Go Early and Go Household was the mantra of the Reserve Bank to get money into the economy at a point where it would have the most impact. By this, the Government meant to stimulate the economy on a massive scale and to take the economic and domestic political pain up front and in full.

Other principles recommend the targeting of domestic production, maximising employment, targeting uplift of economic victims, projects with co-benefits to the community and environment, and targeting regional disadvantage.

These principles were then applied across a range of potential stimulus packages, which varied from investing in public housing to building coal fired power stations.

Of interest to those from the environmental sector were mass tree planting and urban beautification. The results are summarised in the table below, with measures of success at meeting a particular principle traffic lighted.

Design Principles for Fiscal Stimulus in a Pandemic - suggested projects and their historical effectiveness (source: The Australia Institute)
Mass tree planting and urban greening can help aid our Nation's financial recovery

Under the analysis presented by The Australia Institute, Mass Tree Planting and Urban beautification score very well. The benefits of these projects would also be multiplied if we take into account the circumstances faced by the environment throughout Australia.

I spent a week traversing the fire ground earlier this year, and drove through hundreds of kilometres of burnt bush, farmland and communities.

Over the course of this journey, I also became part of network of other like-minded organisations offering volunteers and support for these types of programs. I also realised how hollowed out community and environmental programs such as Landcare have been over the past 10 years. Most groups are surviving on shoe string budgets, and have no resources to tackle land degradation at any scale.

If a large scale revegetation program was supported as part of the post Covid-19 stimulus efforts, it would provide an incredible opportunity to offset the impacts of the bushfires along the east coast. The planting would be an environmental and climate asset for perpetuity.

Pursuing such a program at scale would also present the opportunity to achieve savings by delivering at scale and provide a real opportunity for long term livelihoods in the environmental restoration industry.

The fires are one example of degradation, and across all of Australia there are many opportunities to address landscape scale degradation. The scale of the program need only be limited by the imagination of the funding bodies. These projects are shovel ready and could commence roll out within 6 months of funding being allocated.

If a large scale revegetation program was supported as part of the post COVID-19 stimulus efforts, it would provide an incredible opportunity to offset the impacts of the bushfires along the east coast. The planting would be an environmental and climate asset for perpetuity.

Greening the West is leading the way

The other program that scores well is urban beautification. I would prefer that this be listed as urban greening, and be built to target urban heat island effects. The Greening the West program was developed for the west of Melbourne to target urban heat island effects and generate a better health, economic and environmental outcomes.

The program has demonstrated that large scale planting can occur in areas that are traditionally considered developed. Several years ago over 1 million trees were planted into the western suburbs of Melbourne in public open space areas and the program still has many more sites to plant. Greening the West covers a fraction of Melbourne, and there would be opportunities for the planting of millions of trees around the rest of Melbourne and Australia’s towns and cities.

So there it is, two green and sustainable economic development packages to help our country rebound from COVID-19 and help build a better long term future for all of us.

I now encourage all of you to engage with your local politicians and industry groups to bring whatever influence you can to get projects like these a voice at the table.