The report Are We Building Back Better?, led by the University of Oxford’s Economic Recovery Project and the UN Environment Programme, shows that out of the 50 countries surveyed only a handful are on the path towards a more sustainable Covid-19 pandemic recovery.

The study also reveals a divide between advanced and emerging markets when it comes to the areas of investment being prioritised in this recovery. In the case of advanced economies, green spending was split between a wide range of policy areas, whereas in emerging markets the funds went mainly towards clean energy and natural capital projects.

The projects analysed in the report are all linked to the pandemic and were made in 2020, totalling $14.6trn, of which only $368bn corresponded to green projects, and $341bn – or about 18% – was both green and oriented to economic recovery.

Out of these green-oriented projects, $28.9bn corresponded to green research and development as part of pandemic recovery spending, with France, South Korea, Germany and Spain taking the lead.

Meanwhile, low-carbon energy projects accounted for $66.1bn of pandemic recovery-announced funds, mainly linked to Spanish and German subsidies for renewable energy projects and hydrogen and infrastructure investments.

Despite these findings, Brian O’Callaghan, lead researcher at the Oxford University Economic Recovery Project and the report’s author, believes that countries still have the time to make greener choices in their recovery plans for a more sustainable future.

“Despite positive steps towards a sustainable Covid-19 recovery from a few leading countries, the world has so far fallen short of matching aspirations to build back better,” he said. “But opportunities to spend wisely on recovery are not yet over. Governments can use this moment to secure long-term economic, social and environmental prosperity.”