How COVID-19 might help us win the fight against climate change

climate change_

(William Bossen, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Victoria Crawford, Project Lead, Environmental Resilience, World Economic Forum


  • As the world recovers from COVID-19, we must not let short-term fixes prevent us from addressing longer-term risks like climate change.
  • The response to the pandemic illustrates five actions we can take to address the global climate change crisis.
  • These include making people the priority, listening to global perspectives and trusting experts.

The COVID-19 pandemic has elicited a global response unlike anything we’ve seen before. From government and business taking on new roles to respond to the crisis to the complete re-organisation of how we work, travel and socialize, we have witnessed transformational changes that didn’t appear possible just weeks ago. The human costs of the pandemic are horrifying, but the response has largely been characterised by care, compassion and connection – and an unheard-of pace of change.

What happens over the coming months could go one of two ways.

There is a risk that as the immediate crisis wanes and its economic consequences become clearer, we cast aside longer-term aspirations in pursuit of short-term easy fixes, many of which would have adverse environmental consequences. These include rolling back environmental standards, stimulating the economy by subsidising fossil-fuel-heavy industries and focusing on making more things, rather than using them better.

But there is another possibility. While we are reeling in the shock of what is happening around us and coming to terms with our new reality, we could seize this moment as a unique window of opportunity to re-build our society and economy as we want it. With scientists warning we have 10 years left to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, this could offer an opportunity to fix the climate crisis before it’s too late.

A number of shifts brought on by the COVID-19 emergency lay the groundwork for the transformation required. Here are five actions we should take.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

A new strain of Coronavirus, COVID 19, is spreading around the world, causing deaths and major disruption to the global economy.

Responding to this crisis requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

The Forum has created the COVID Action Platform, a global platform to convene the business community for collective action, protect people’s livelihoods and facilitate business continuity, and mobilize support for the COVID-19 response. The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

Re-think risk

We have known about the risk of a global pandemic for years: just see Bill Gates declare during a 2015 Ted Talk that “If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it is most likely to be a highly infectious virus… We should be concerned. But in fact we can build a really good response system.” Yet it took an unfolding disaster to prompt governments, businesses and individuals to act at the scale required.

Climate change similarly poses a major threat to human lives and urgently requires a comprehensive response. A study published in the medical journal the Lancet predicts 500,000 adult deaths caused by climate change by 2050.

Image: The Atlas

If the pandemic teaches us to acknowledge our vulnerability to high-impact shocks such as pandemics and climate-related disasters, we will be infinitely better placed to prepare for them.

Listen to global perspectives

The truly global nature of the COVID-19 crisis is forcing us to recognise that we are all in this together. For example, China sending help to Italy represents more than just shifts in the geopolitical landscape; it also shows an overcoming of the sense of “other,” and an acknowledgement that events in one part of the world can affect us all.

The jury is out on whether COVID-19 will prompt the world to choose the route of national isolation or global solidarity, but a growing understanding that we are inherently connected to people in vastly different geographies and circumstances can help build momentum for strong climate action.

Make people the top priority

The response to COVID-19 has seen the plight of patients, medical staff and other vulnerable groups skyrocket to the top of the agenda – of individuals, businesses and governments alike. Many individuals are re-arranging their lives to practice social distancing, offering elderly neighbours help with their chores and volunteering in health facilities and food banks, showing the power that can be unleashed when we are united behind a common cause.

Businesses are re-directing their production lines to provide medical and hygiene supplies, offering free access to their online platforms and supporting their employees in a number of ways, such as increasing their wages, highlighting how agile they can be in responding to critical needs. And governments are committing trillions to help those affected by coronavirus, in what looks like a “race to the top” in providing the most comprehensive support to their citizens.

All this shows that a large-scale response to a global crisis is possible. We need to harness this wave of compassion and proactivity to protect vulnerable people in all contexts, including those most exposed to climate impacts.

global risks report 2020
Image: World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2020

Trust experts

As the significance of the pandemic has dawned on us, the value of knowledge has become increasingly clear. The advice of epidemiologists has gone viral (we’ve all seen the “flatten the curve” meme), and doctors have been held up as heroes. This might represent a turning point in a trend towards the demise of experts.

We need to listen to climate scientists and policy advisors to win the climate change fight too. A greater trust in experts of all types takes us in the right direction.

Make a cultural shift

Many aspects of the COVID-19 response are similar to the types of changes we need as part of a comprehensive climate-change response. What is interesting is that many necessary shifts just require a change in culture. For example, neither the surge in cycling and expansion of bike lanes in Bogota as citizens avoid public transport, nor the coronavirus work-from-home experiment, have required any new technology, but instead have relied on new thinking.

It is clear that we have many of the tools to make major advances in addressing climate change; what we need now is the political will to apply them.

Much remains uncertain about what the world will look like when we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, but the fundamental societal changes we are witnessing may well offer us a final chance to avoid a climate catastrophe.

Advertising

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Feeling the heat? This is how to keep cool as temperatures rise

Brazil’s hopeless future of science

UN chief sends condolences to families of Malawi flood victims

Denouncing attacks against Baghdad protesters, UN warns ‘violence risks placing Iraq on dangerous trajectory’

UN chief commends African Union on adoption of institutional reforms

The entire Australian state of New South Wales is in drought

What will it take for the world’s third-largest economy to empower women?

ECB’s unconventional monetary measures give first tangible results

On International Youth Day the European Youth Forum calls for true youth participation

For how long will terror and economic stagnation be clouding the European skies?

FROM THE FIELD: Rohingya babies conceived out of ‘incomprehensible brutality’

IMF’s Lagarde: Ukraine must fight corruption

These are the world’s healthiest nations

Happens now in Brussels: Green Week sets the EU and global climate policy agenda

New UN report launched to help ratchet up action to combat climate crisis

Why Commissioner Rehn wants us all to work more for less

COP21 Breaking News_09 December: List of Recent Climate Funding Announcements

EU to give more power to national antitrust authorities in a bid to secure regulatory fines

In Chad, top UN officials say humanitarian response must go ‘hand in hand’ with longer-term recovery

The space internet race is dawning. Here’s what to expect

International tourism is set to plunge by 80% this year – but some regions could recover more quickly

Connectivity and collaboration in the ICT industry: the key to socio-economic development

5 amazing schools that will make you wish you were young again

Chatterbox Rome Declaration cannot save the EU; Germany has to pay more to do that

Coronavirus has exposed human rights gaps. We need to fix this

Trump’s Pandemic Failure: A Missed Opportunity

Main results of Foreign Affairs EU Council, 16/07/2018

Egypt urged to free prominent couple jailed arbitrarily since last June: UN rights office

Polish PM chooses to focus on economy, amid questions on rule of law in Poland

Brexit kick-off: a historic day for the EU anticlockwise

Avocado: the ‘green gold’ causing environment havoc

Why press freedom should be at the top of everyone’s agenda

Lack of involvement, or lack of opportunities?

How cities can lead the way in bridging the global housing gap

Link between conflict and hunger worldwide, ‘all too persistent and deadly’, says new UN report

Eritrea sanctions lifted amid growing rapprochement with Ethiopia: Security Council

EU: Divided they stand on immigration and Trump hurricanes

How Costa Rica’s environment minister talks to his daughter about climate change

1 million citizens try to create a new EU institution

From cheeseburgers to coral reefs, the science of decision-making can change the world

Chart of the day: The internet has a language diversity problem

Depression is the no. 1 cause of ill health and disability worldwide

Minority governments ‘à la mode’ in Europe but can they last long?

EU citizens disenchanted with Economic and Monetary Union over rising poverty and high unemployment

Women and girls in science – from aspiration to reality

European Junior Enterprise Network – Ready to take the Step Into the Future?

High-tech or ‘high-touch’: UK survey gives clues to the jobs of the future

The EU Commission fails to draw the right conclusions about corruption

Entrepreneurship’s key to success showcased by a serial young entrepreneur

Climate change and health: public health awareness in an international framework

Why are the financial markets shivering again?

Here’s what a Korean boy band can teach us about globalization 4.0

Why your next work meeting should be a ‘walk-and-talk’

Brussels waits for the Germans to arrive

COVID-19: Commission provides guidance on EU passenger rights

Preparing the future today: World Health Organisation and young doctors

How cities around the world are handling COVID-19 – and why we need to measure their preparedness

Threat from petty criminals who turn to terrorism, a growing concern, Security Council hears

A rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the war-torn Yemen

25 years after population conference, women still face challenges to ‘well-being and human rights’, says UN chief

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s