The pandemic poses a great opportunity for governments to reshape economy.
The Paris agreement couldn’t do it and Greta Thunberg is too young to make a huge difference just yet. However, the Covid-19 era has led to a dramatic decline in greenhouse gas emissions as the world has basically come to a stop.
Travel has dropped ten fold and general economic activity is very slow in much of the world. After a small pause in 2009, carbon emissions for this year will show their first significant decline since modern records began.
Trying to tackle the climate emergency in a sustainable and durable way will not come from shutting down the economy as the virus has shown.
It has to come and most likely will come from restructuring the economy to encourage a low-carbon alternatives.
When we hear that this pandemic is ‘good’ for the environment, that in itself is a very misleading expression as it would weaken government funding and enthusiasm for climate action.
Nations that dependent on coal – predominantly in Eastern Europe – are calling for a delay in the recently announced European green deal. Car producers in Europe are asking for bailouts and for the carbon emission targets to be also pushed back.
Is this crisis a threat or an opportunity to tackle the climate change agenda? This is the dilemma the word currently faces. This is captured in a bitter sweet observation of the current oil price, with its uncertainty.
Governments must intervene and ensure that the availability of cheaper fossil fuels does not slow the transition to low carbon transport infrastructure.
These weaker oil prices provide an opportunity for nations to remove historic fuel subsidies, or adjust tax regimes. Governments also need to find a way to ensure the switch to clean energy technologies is not derailed by coronavirus.
Governments should take these unprecedented times as a chance to launch stimulus packages that are focused on clean energy.
Even to an individual company level, the prospect in corporate profits plummeting will test their commitment to climate issues. Cheap and cheerful fossil fuels or a switch to a cleaner future from now on.
Is climate focus just a luxury item at the peak of profits for a company or is it the beginning of a new investment agenda? Questions that large corporations will have to ask themselves.
It is possible that investors start to put more value on long-run resilience rather than short-run profits. This switch needs commitment and patience, we cannot afford to go back to our old ways or ‘normal’.
In an attempt to nudge the corporate sector into permanent change is in the appetite for business flights. The Swedish word for flight shame is ‘flygskam’, is already in our vocabulary and now is the word for the communication system Zoom. This could have a permanent negative affect on the flying industry. At least in developed countries anyway.
Taking action on the crisis is a long term game and cannot be done in the next year. It will take at least a decade to reverse the impacts already occurring over the globe.
It is about encouraging energy-lite growth, at the same time as encouraging emissions-lite energy production. Currently we live in a world where GDP growth depends on more energy and emissions. We need to think of a way to leave this out of the post coronavirus era.
The fantastic news though is that governments in many nations now have an opportunity to mould the economy completely which was unimaginable 3 months ago.
The greatest ever chance to reshape corporate activity and incentivise businesses to get serious about how to help nations achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050 lies in this pandemic.
The UN’s climate change conference scheduled for October/November time in Glasgow has been delayed until 2021 – due to social distancing regulations.
A silver lining comes as this may allow the new US president to retake their seat at the table. If there is a new elect of course.
However, 2020 will forever be a key year for political action on climate change. A new year, a new decade, in the midst of a pandemic and climate crisis, the time is now.
This year also marks the time 192 nations that have signed the Paris agreement, are due to publish updated nationally determined contribution on how they are going to step up their game on this fight.
Policy-makers around the globe should renew their commitment to that goal with vigour, and ensure that 2020 is not merely a blip in our global carbon emissions history. We need the recovery to be a green one.
Credit: William Wand
Source: The Figure Head