Over the last few months, our focus has been sharply concentrated on the COVID-19 pandemic – staying safe and coming out of the other side in the best way possible. It’s not been easy, and still isn’t – the ‘coronarollercoaster’ is real and many, huge challenges remain.
However, I saw this picture pop up on Twitter the other day and it’s stayed on my mind ever since. Whilst no doubt rather scary and daunting, ever the optimist, it has made me wonder what we can take from the pandemic to help us ride the waves which are coming.
Powerful visuals can sometimes tell a story more effectively than words #FlattenTheCurve
-> Original by @mackaycartoons (without green wave)
-> Edited cartoon by ??
— RRI Tools (@RRITools) May 18, 2020
Has COVID-19 given us the impetus to realise what we can achieve?
For sure the pandemic has led, indirectly, to positives for our climate. With less travel, by car, plane and train, there has been a global reduction in emissions of 17%. For the first time ever, more of our electricity was generated from renewable sources (over 40%) than by fossil fuels (30.6%) throughout the whole of the first quarter of this year. Nature has begun to creep back into our urban environments with fish in waterways, more birds and deer wandering around quieter cities.
However, these changes will only last whilst an extent of lockdown is being adhered to with experts explaining that the temporary positive impact of COVID-19 on our climate will be negligible.
Fundamentally, we have not decarbonised our lives. The changes are temporary and unsustainable – for society and for our economy – and climate change cannot be addressed in this way. There needs long term commitment from us all, including the policy change needed to embed these behaviours. The pandemic has shown us what we can do. We can quickly change how we live when we really want or need to.
Decisions are now beginning to be made as to the stimulus we should choose to ensure the quickest and most solid economic recovery possible. Talk of a ‘green’ recovery has been increasing and if we really are committed to hitting net zero, our approach to recovery must consider our future challenges. The Committee on Climate Change have written a letter urging Government to take this opportunity. ‘Recovery round tables’ to examine how the UK can grow opportunities as we begin to transition to a green economy are being held by Business Secretary Alok Sharma, feeding directly into the UK Government’s work on our economic recovery.
The UK Government has committed to invest up to £37 billion in the next 12 months on infrastructure projects. This great news needs to be backed up with deployment sped up through fast-track planning in order to really realise these benefits as part of the foundations of our recovery.
The infrastructure we build around us drives our behaviours and impacts how we live our lives. Whilst it can no doubt provide solutions, it can also become part of the problem,inhibiting change and innovation. Using lockdown as a time in which the pause button was pressed, priorities re-evaluated, and our way of living changed, we must now focus on how we can and will change and improve. Planning the right infrastructure will enable and encourage us to live our lives in a sustainable way. The rise in active travel (e.g. walking and cycling) has been boosted by government with a new £2bn package “to put cycling and walking at the heart of our transport policy”. Transport for London has unveiled plans for cycle-only roads and bridges in the capital to help Londoners avoid public transport.
This open mindset is not be restricted to travel. How we generate our energy presents huge opportunities. With the dramatic drop in costs over the last decade, renewables are now not only a cost-effective and clean source of electricity, but also offer fantastic potential to stimulate the UK economy with secure, consistent and predictable energy, investment returns and job creation opportunities.
As lockdown eases, the general public have demonstrated their desire to hear about something other than COVID-19 and the bleak economic outlook. This has allowed other stories to take centre stage – those driven by social movements that perhaps have previously struggled for a voice are now, rightly, global in their outreach. This is the time for environmental messaging to build upon the foundations laid in late 2019/early 2020 but now not along but part of the economic messaging and investments that will inevitably now come as countries across the world look to get their societies re-engaged and bolstered for the months and years ahead.
COVID-19 has taught us a lot – about what is important and what we can achieve when we have no other choice. It has shown us that we need to work together. To communicate. To have true common goals. And only when we do that will we stand a chance. Will we remember what we have learnt? Let’s hope so.
This week, the challenge we face on climate change was summed up perfectly this week by Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, “This is a crisis that will involve the whole world and from which no one can self-isolate”.
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