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.
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.
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.