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.

the sting Milestones

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

China Unlimited: an exclusive interview with the former Ambassador of Hungary to China

Healthcare workers’ safety: a forgotten necessity

Understanding the ‘second brain’ in your gut

5 things to know about the exploding world of pro gaming

First EU-wide protection for whistle-blowers agreed

The EU has to prove it can remain one piece

These 8 countries have perfect scores for women’s rights at work

International Women’s Day: Where does she belong?

Africa-Europe Alliance: European Commission committed to a sustainable African agri-food sector

4 things ISPs can do to reduce the impact of cybercrime

Trump ‘used’ G20 to side with Putin and split climate and trade packs

State aid: Commission opens in-depth investigation into arbitration award in favour of Antin to be paid by Spain

Vile act of torture prohibited ‘under all circumstances’, UN chief affirms on International Day to support victims

3 ways to ensure the internet’s future is creative, collaborative and fair

This lethal fungus is threatening to wipe out the world’s bananas

EU food watchdog: more transparency, better risk prevention

New rules on drivers’ working conditions and fair competition in road transport

Help African farmers cope with climate change threats, UN food agency urges

Why cybersecurity matters more than ever during the coronavirus pandemic

Europe eyes to replace US as China’s prime foreign partner

3 ways to make technologies more inclusive for people with disabilities

Confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine grows in UK and US, but global concerns about side effects are on the rise

Preventing and resolving conflicts must form ‘backbone’ of collective efforts – UN chief

UPDATED: Thousands flee fighting around Libyan capital as Guterres condemns escalation, urges ‘immediate halt’ to all military operations

How emerging markets will shape Africa in 2020

5 factors driving the Chinese lawtech boom

This tool shows you which cities will flood as ice sheets melt

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

Security Council urges ‘maximum restraint’ around Gulf region as Iran and United States trade diplomatic blows in New York

EU Parliament says ‘no’ to austerity budget

ISIS fighters fleeing Mosul for Syria can topple Assad. Why did the US now decide to uproot them from Iraq?

China and China-EU Relations in the New Era

5 things you might not know about forests – but should

More hiring freedom can reduce teacher shortages in disadvantaged areas

When it comes to envirotech adoption, NGOs can lead us out of the woods

‘Extinction crisis’ pushes countries to agree stronger protection for global wildlife

Why we need both science and humanities for a Fourth Industrial Revolution education

The digital transformation is a skills and education opportunity for all. Companies must use it

European Commission increases support for the EU’s beekeeping sector

Building a Climate-Resilient Future – A new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change

The UK option: An overarching alternative for the whole Brexit options

‘The time for action is now’ senior UN peacekeeping official says, urging support for regional force combating Sahel terrorism

Mediterranean migrant drownings should spur greater action by European countries, urge UN agencies

Carbon levy on EU imports needed to raise global climate ambition

Iran: women hunger strikers entitled to medical care, UN rights experts urge

It is now the era to evolve mutually as the bacteria do

COVID-19: Revised rules to encourage banks to lend to companies and households

Fashion’s hot new trend: clothes you don’t need to wash (very often)

Stronger partnerships with post-conflict countries needed to ensure ‘path towards durable peace’: UN chief

Republic of Korea President proposes DMZ as future ‘peace and cooperation district’ on Peninsula

Women’s work faces the greatest risk of automation, says new research

May led Britain to chaos, now looks for way out with unpredictable DUP

We must rethink and repurpose cybersecurity for the COVID-19 era

EU-Turkey relations: EU considers imposing sanctions while Turkey keeps violating Cyprus’ sovereignty

National parks give a $6 trillion boost to mental health worldwide

Here’s how data can shine a light on financial crime

Will Eurozone be able to repay its debts? Is a bubble forming there?

Eight years in, Syria still embroiled in conflict ‘that no longer sparks outrage’, Security Council hears

Difficulties of vaccination against COVID-19

Services are the hidden side of the US-China trade war

More Stings?

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