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Climate Change & the Corona Virus

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

Many of us argued that 2020 would be the year when action on climate change would be critical and would indicate whether we would be on track to adequately decrease carbon emissions. Little did we know then that a new crisis would take over that people could think of little else. Covid-19 appeared on the radar on December 31st in Wuhan China and just over two months later it became a goal pandemic. But climate change will not go away and will almost certainly in the medium to long run be more serious than Covid-19 with far more loss of life globally.  And there are links between these two existential crises of our time and it would be useful to visit these to start thinking them through once the immediate panic is over

Crisis Management

Corona Virus has taken most countries by surprise and it became clear that there were few contingency plans for such a situation. The fact that this has happened has put countries on alert for future crises and clearly climate change will be such a situation.

The way that we have reacted to the corona crisis will have highlighted models we need to use because of climate change and we will need to work on these and refine them once there present crisis is over

Reduction of Carbon Emissions

First the emergency measures taken to combat Covid-19 has seen a lockdown of economies across the globe and this has reduced carbon emissions significantly.

Slowing economic activity also drives down emissions — if only temporarily. As countries order the closedown of schools, shops and factories, emissions are expected to fall.

The last time carbon emissions fell was during the economic crisis in 2008-2009. But as the economy picked up, so did demand for coal and other fossil fuels — especially in China, the world’s largest emitter. A study by specialist outlet Carbon Brief found that in China, carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by around 25 percent.

Another factor that could dampen emissions growth is lower oil demand.

The key question is whether the impacts are sustained, or if they will be offset – or even reversed – by the government response to the crisis. And indeed whether activity after the crisis will reverse the saving of emissions.

The Impact On Green Businesses

Banks and investors are trying to understand how the increasingly low prices of oil and gas will affect renewable energy development. With fossil fuel prices nose diving, some analysts fear that governments will scrap their plans to spend on renewable projects in favour of cheap oil and gas.

For example Coronavirus dampens the 2020 outlook for clean energy and electric vehicles. The coronavirus crisis gripping the global economy has forced clean energy analyst BloombergNEF (BNEF) to downgrade its expectations for the solar, battery, and electric vehicle (EV) markets.

As well the crisis may put some green tech companies out of business once the crisis is over and that is another concern for sustainable development post crisis.

Biodiversity And Pandemics

The increasing frequency of disease outbreaks is linked to climate change and biodiversity loss. The past 20 years of contained outbreaks may have led to complacency. New technologies offer hope in the search for countermeasures – but protecting the natural world must play a part, too.

The frequency of disease outbreaks has been increasing steadily. Between 1980 and 2013 there were 12,012 recorded outbreaks, comprising 44 million individual cases and affecting every country in the world. A number of trends have contributed to this rise, including high levels of global travel, trade and connectivity, and high-density living - but the links to climate change and biodiversity are the most striking.

Many researchers have highlighted how the destruction of our biodiversity and natural capital has in fact perpetuated many new pathogens

Changing The Way We Do Politics

The corona virus emergency could have a lasting impact on the way we do politics but in which direction it is difficult to predict. There are those that argue that the mutual aid society that has developed during the crisis will result in a more community engaging kind of politics with politicians more open and honest and less adversarial. 

Others argue that the emergency measures needed in the crisis may well be held onto by politicians post crisis with less human rights and more control on freedom of movement.

It could go in either direction and create new conflicts once the crisis is over.

Restoring The Credibility of Government

In the past decades trust in Government and politicians has suffered a steep decline but this crisis has made Government restore some of its credibility.

In Italy for example the coronavirus crisis has buttressed Italy’s democratic state – for now. Virtually overnight, Italians have shifted from dismissive cynicism of their national government to a blind and trusting devotion – even as the nation shut down and residents were shut in.

In the UK although there has been misgivings about the decisions made by Government especially in the early stages of the crisis, there is an acknowledgement that although we may disagree with that Government there is still a need to get behind it.

The Value & Importance of Experts

The last decade has seen the reputation of politicians decline but we have also seen the views of experts questioned and their authenticity challenged. This happed widely in the debate over Brexit.

Some even questioned the views of scientists who had an overwhelming evidential view that climate change was happening and that it was the result of human activity.

The corona virus crisis has now seen a dramatic change in this and people and indeed the very politicians who devalued the view of experts, suddenly look to them for advice and guidance.

It seems that there is a new and more sensible balance being struck between those who make decisions and those who provide the evidence. Corona Virus has been a wake up call to politicians about the value of experts.

The hope is that this new balance will create a more sensible and balanced view about climate change in the years going forward

The Regeneration of Civil Society

This crisis has seen a huge growth of civil society activity. Indeed often the lead has been taken by civil society organisations rather than be local or national government. A myriad of groups have suddenly sprung up and existing groups have been galvanised to help those most in need. Volunteers have flocked to help the NHS and to work with Food Banks to deliver food to those socially isolated. Initiatives have emerged to make contact to those suffering the anxiety and loneliness of isolation.

This can only make civil society stronger and a stronger civil society makes for a healthier democracy but it will also challenge governments brought up in the post 1945 welfare consensus by demonstrating that mutual aid can often more effectively than central control

The Rebirth of Post Keynesian Economics

Since the 1980’s there has been a reduction in the state and move towards privatising not just the industrial sector but also the service sector as well. What was once run by then state or local authorities has often been out out to tender or the subject of private/public partnerships.

The advent of the corona virus crisis has now seen a mass growth of the state and this may be difficult to reverse once the crisis is over.  The tools of fiscal policy and deficit spending has in this crisis replaced the monetary economics of the 1980’s on and will be needed for reconstruction once this crisis ends.

But it will probably be a different form of public intervention than that of the immediate post War period because the rise of civil society will require more innovate types of partnership

The Consumer Society Revisited

The post war economy has grown up on a basis of consumerism and planned obsolescence and this crisis may challenge that as people question the basis on which that society has evolved.

Both citizens and Governments may well revisit the “just in time” supply lines that have emerged to feed modern consumerism and look for more sustainable ways to feed their supply chains.

There may also be a greater awareness of the links between mass consumerism and pandemics that will spill over to a greater understanding of the links between consumerism and carbon emissions.

It will be important not to go back to business as usual

Travel, Pollution and Climate Change

The corona virus emergency has brought not just most of industry to a halt but also travel as well whether it is by plane of by car. The result of this is that the level of pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases has reduced significantly.

The impact of this is it will perhaps give us time to think about whether we want to go back to a world that is warming and where pollution is killing people. 

Clearly we will have to get our economy moving again but this crisis might be the catalyst to making us all think that there are cleaners and friendlier ways of doing that.

Digital Connections

With people social isolated they have turned to digital communication in huge numbers. The people using Zoom has shot up significantly and new sites like House Party have arrived on the scene to social network people together. Meetings that once used to be face to face have been replaced by digital alternatives and platforms like Hop In that can offer full scale conferences online.

This could harbour a permanent change where people hold more meetings online rather than chasing around the country and the globe as they have done hitherto.

This will help to significantly impact on our carbon footprint and also on how we behave

Rethinking Global Governance.

In recent years there has been a crisis in global governance and the rise of “my country first” Parties has undermined the post Second World War international settlement.

But of course it is clear that the corona virus emergency is a global one on a massive scale and requires an international response. 

So what may come out of this is the understanding that international collaboration is absolutely necessary in the modern world. Climate change is also creating an emergency on a global scale and will also require an international response.

So what could come out off this is a growing awareness that we must make our global institutions fit for purpose for these challenges and a new settlement around global collaboration be agreed

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