During this Covid-19 pandemic, many people are experiencing uncertainties that the most vulnerable communities in our society live with on a day-to-day basis. For example, worries about job security, missing mortgage or rent payments, accessing food, child care, healthcare, education, and even a general sense of feeling trapped in a situation that is well beyond their control.
However, this pandemic has certainly shown people how broken and inequitable our current systems really are, as well as the world’s approach (or lack of) towards tackling the climate crisis. This is not to say that the pandemic created these inequities that we are currently facing. Rather, it has revealed the crises that were already there, and how they are now fairing much worse. If we don’t address these issues as an integral part to our response to the outbreak, we will not only be less resilient to future pandemics and emergencies, but we will prevent ourselves from achieving any kind of ‘new normal’.
Despite the clear warnings from scientists, and the evidence pouring in every day that climate impacts are already being felt on a worldwide scale — fossil fuel companies are still spending billions to lock in more climate pollution. In 2018, roughly $1.2 trillion in investment went to fossil fuels. What’s more shocking is the fossil fuel industry has actually known about the climate crisis for decades. Investigations uncovered that the industry was funding research into carbon pollution and was aware of the dangers of rising global temperatures all the way back in the 1960s. But instead of acting responsibly, they decided to polarise the issue, confuse the public, and essentially delay action.
The IPCC has warned that global temperature rises should be limited to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels in order to keep the worst, most devastating effects of climate change from battering human societies. Yet in May 2020, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere crept up to about 418 parts per million (ppm). This was the highest ever recorded in human history. Recently, UNEP have revealed that to hit that goal, overall human-cause GHG emissions need to start dropping by 7.6% each year from now until 2030 .
The UK has an advanced climate change legislation, whose proposed budgets require the country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from 695MtCO2e in 2006 to 159MtCO2e by 2050. This is equivalent to an annual average reduction of 3.3%. All of this is achievable, but only if the necessary steps are taken to facilitate a smooth transition to a green economy.
Many people are fearful of life returning ‘back to normal’. That’s because as lockdowns were enforced across the world, people were temporarily locked up and excluded from these natural spaces. During this time, nature has become more visible and our collective impact on the natural world has become more noticeable through its absence. People are once again looking to nature, thinking how might they best preserve this precious planet that we live on.
Despite this eco-anxiety, COVID-19 has given us a glimpse into that future, as we have witnessed a massive decrease in energy demand during global lockdown and a significant increase in the up-take of renewable energy. We have seen renewables delivering almost half (47%) of our electricity generation across Europe - an increase of 9% compared to 2019, and even a drop in coal generation by 32% from 15th March to 17th April 2020. Change is on the horizon.
Climate change is a systemic issue and will demand that businesses take a long-term view and form strategic collaborations on a global scale, rather than focusing solely on the short-term and profitability. This is a significant worry as we build back from the coronavirus crisis, as people feel like they have to choose one or the other; profit or planet. But this is not the case. Instead of being viewed as a cost, the shift to sustainability and circularity should be seen as an opportunity to make a positive impact.
Change is possible. This is evidenced through Orsted, who was once Denmark’s largest coal, oil and gas giant. In 2017 the company decided to phase-out the use of coal for power generation and underwent a significant business model shift to focus entirely on renewable energy. Since then, investors’ share prices have tripled. A decade ago they were one of the most fossil fuel intensive energy companies in Europe. Today they’re ranked as the most sustainable company in the world (based on the Corporate Knights 2020 Global 100 index of most sustainable corporations). They truly epitomise how systemic change can occur through collective action.
From this point in time, we must work with decision makers to move from a short-term and quick-fix mentality to longer-term thinking. This is something we should have and could have done years ago, as the need for these structural changes has been growing for decades. With increased public awareness and the need to build back better, the support for this change is something very new and very exciting.