The Twin COVID-CLIMATE Crisis

Deepa Pullanikkatil (PHd)
Co-Director: Sustainable Futures in Africa Network
Chair of Tourism and Economic Recovery Team- Unlocking Climate Finance for COVID response (Eswatini)

The Blue Marble by the crew of Apollo 17 (1972)

Our world is facing extreme adversity in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, with severe effects on economies and human wellbeing. Globally, Governments are busy setting up stimulus packages and recovery plans to get the economy back on a growth trajectory post COVID. COVID-19 and economic recovery dominates the global news today. But just a few months ago, the news reports were about Australia being on fire, near record melting of ice in the Arctic, millions of school children striking on the streets and about the extinction rebellion movement gaining momentum. The United Nations has declared that this is the decade of climate action to have a 50% chance to prevent catastrophic climate change by keeping emissions below 1.5degC below pre-industrial levels. Just a few months ago we realized that “our house is on fire”, and 28 countries declared climate emergency. But today, amidst the attention given to the COVID emergency, the climate emergency seems to have faded away. Today, our priority is to save lives and bring the economy back to life. We will overcome the COVID-19 crisis eventually, but will we overcome the climate crisis?

The political moment is now, for taking the right actions for a green recovery path. COVID could be a catalyst for greening the world and thereby averting the climate crisis. Instead of unsustainable industrial expansion, we need to include into recovery plans, environment friendly growth, creation of green jobs and actions to take us on low emissions pathways. This could include greening of investments in critical public sector areas, expanding clean energy, moving away from fossil fuels and polluting practices, encouraging transportation that is less polluting and building sustainable infrastructure. Already some countries have started expanding infrastructure for cyclists, companies have announced more work-from-home options for workers and industries such as the Royal Dutch Shell said they would aim to reduce their emissions to net-zero by 2050.

During the lockdowns we have experienced what it would be like for the world when greenhouse gas emissions drop from reduced industrial activity and reduced traffic with humans under lockdown. Beautiful blue skies, clean air and thriving wildlife were some of the signs of a healing earth that we saw during the lockdowns. There could be a double win coming out of this twin crisis. Governments can help their economies recover, at the same time help solve the climate crisis and achieve their climate commitments faster. If we are in a rush to catch up on lost time and develop aggressively by polluting, we would not have learnt from the pandemic. The future growth should be doubling up our efforts to not pollute, focus on addressing inequality and reform the way we do business to move into a greener future – together.

This is the time to transform our thinking.  This adversity can be turned into an opportunity.

Further readings:

How the COVID crisis offers lessons for dealing with the climate crisis

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

Webinar: COVID-19, Climate, and the Clean Economy

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