Three wind turbines on cover of report.

Are We Building Back Better?


United Nations Environmental Programme

A growing body of evidence, including Hepburn et al. (2020), suggests that green fiscal spending can deliver stronger economic returns than traditional spending alternatives. Additionally, studies show that well-designed green spending can counter the environmental crises of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss, while also delivering significant social benefits.

In response to COVID-19, we find that the fifty largest economies announced USD14.6tn in fiscal spending in 2020, of which USD1.9tn (13.0%) was for long-term economic recovery. But have spending patterns aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris targets? In this paper, we analyze the characteristics of 2020 COVID-19 spending using over 3,000 spending policies from the Global Recovery Observatory’s tracking of the fifty largest economies.

At the time of writing, the largest window for green spending is only now opening, as nations shift attention from short-term rescue measures to recovery. Using examples from 2020 spending, we highlight five major green investment opportunities to be prioritized in 2021: green energy, green transport, green building upgrades & energy efficiency, natural capital, and green research and development.


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