All four authors are part of the Sustainable Canada Dialogues Network. Matthew Hoffmann is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto Scarborough and Co-Director of the Environmental Governance Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. Christina Hoicka is an Associate Professor at York University and expert on the diffusion of low-carbon innovations and on community participation in renewable energy transitions. Alison Kemper is an Associate Professor in the Entrepreneurship and Strategy department of the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University and a senior researcher at the Lee-Chin Family institute at the Rotman School. She studies business and society. Cheryl Teelucksingh is a Professor in the Sociology Department at Ryerson University and an expert in the areas of environmental justice and racialization in Canada.

More than two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, post-crisis recovery is front of mind for policy-makers and the public alike. We have all learned a lot in a very short period of time and our wisdom was gained at a very high cost. Perhaps most troubling, the fragility and inequality of “normal” life has been laid bare in terrifying detail. Many Canadians have been faced with unemployment, dangerous and underpaid jobs, the unbearable risks of seniors’ residences, the loss of their businesses and professions. The longing for a return to normal, then, is really a desire for life with far fewer unseen risks and terrifying disruptions.

For those that study and work on climate change policy, this feels all too familiar.

Thus we are heartened by the many calls for pandemic recovery-planning to be geared toward preventing further waves of crises brought on by climate change. There is no shortage of proposals for “springing forward” and pursuing a “green recovery” that would focus Canada on low-carbon and sustainable investments that will make our society and economy safer, more resilient and more robust.

Yet we must do more. Taking action on climate change and enhancing social justice and equity must be seen as indivisible. The recovery from the pandemic cannot be a return to normal with low-carbon window dressing. Canada should seize the opportunity to embrace a socially inclusive green recovery.

Now is the time not just to imagine, but to build a society that sustains all of us. The virus has revealed cracks in society and consequences of inequality that have diminished our collective resilience. Successful short-term policies to deal with the consequences of the pandemic, like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), increased worker protections and small business loans, have worked by increasing everyone’s security. Likewise, the best way to ensure that the climate crisis itself, as well as efforts to pursue climate action, do not irreparably harm Canadian society is to ensure that everyone participates in and benefits from low-carbon plans and policies.

This effort need not start from scratch. For many years, community, government and labour leaders, academics and artists have worked for an equitable low-carbon society, one where transformations in housing, energy, food supply, jobs and transportation make us stronger, healthier and more united. We know a great deal about integrating social justice, equity and climate action. As we invest in post-COVID-19 future, those principles need to be put into action in every aspect of a low-carbon recovery.

We know that we need to retrofit our building stock and build denser neighborhoods. Density needs to be done better. Deep energy retrofits should be particularly targeted at marginalized communities in ways that reduce energy use while simultaneously addressing costs of living and energy poverty. Rather than focusing solely on technological innovation, we can redirect investment and focus innovation to follow the example of the Energiesprong initiative in the Netherlands, rethinking financing and delivery. By reinventing the energy business model for Canada, we can create significant new demand for low- or even zero-emissions buildings.

We know that we can and must transition to renewable energy. Inclusive forms of renewable-energy ownership – such as net-metering and virtual net-metering, cooperatives, community trusts and the emerging Renewable Energy Communities business model – can apply to any form of renewable energy, whether rooftop, local community-based or distant, to provide a source of revenue that can supplement incomes or energy costs. These ownership options include the ability to own without the hurdle of up-front capital. Renewables can be tailored for the economic development and resilience needs of specific communities that must adapt to climate change.

We know we need more equity in food security. At the beginning of this pandemic, the lineups started. Shelves were immediately emptied of frozen vegetables and dried beans. It’s only become more difficult to get food, as shortages and prices have increased and supply chains have become more fragile. Less employment means fewer groceries. What used to be 4.4 million food-insecure Canadians has the potential to increase precipitously. Food insecurity will only grow with the climate crisis and recovery plans should usher in sustainable, resilient farming practices.

We know that we need to re-evaluate how and why we value labour. The pandemic has shown us that occupations at the front lines of health-care and the service sector, such as nursing and delivery jobs, are essential to our wellbeing, but are often precarious. Green jobs in renewable energy – such as installation, building retrofitting, and electric vehicle and charging infrastructure manufacturing, to name just a few – can be decent and socially inclusive; many of them are in sectors that already exist. Expanding green jobs would reduce unemployment, enhance quality of life by reducing carbon outputs, and contribute to a sustainable economy.

There is an enormous amount of work ahead of us to recover from COVID-19. The details of the policies that we put in place are important and must be weighed carefully. But the first principles we need for the recovery are clear and should provide a touchstone for all the policy planning and implementation to come. Simply put, social justice, equity and sustainability must be one.

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Alison Kemper is an Associate Professor in the Entrepreneurship and Strategy department of the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University and a senior researcher at the Lee-Chin Family Institute at the Rotman School. She studies business and society.

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