• How Can the COVID-19 Recovery Tackle Climate Change?

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How Can the COVID-19 Recovery Tackle Climate Change?

May 16 2020

The UK and Germany hosted a joint conference last month, at which they warned world leaders that any exit strategy aimed towards recovering the global economy must contain climate change solutions at its heart. Named the “Petersberg Climate Dialogue”, the meeting took place over two days via video conferencing software, thus complying with social distancing policies in place around the world.

The other major priority of the conference was to establish a revised date for COP26, which was due to take place in Glasgow in November but has been postponed due to coronavirus concerns. Although resolutions made at the meeting have not yet been announced, campaign groups are sceptical that meaningful action will have been taken due to the international community’s poor track record on environmental issues in the past.

A greener future

While much of the media attention on the current pandemic has concentrated on the quickest return to some semblance of normality, comparatively little focus has been attributed to the environmental implications of coronavirus and its aftermath. Cities around the world have already seen what is possible in terms of improving air quality if the impetus is there; from Beijing to Barcelona, urban epicentres have experienced far less air pollution than normal due to lockdown measures.

As such, these unexpected side-effects of controlling the virus should be interpreted as an insight into what a low-carbon future could look like. With the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently warning that climate change still remains a bigger threat than COVID-19, countries across the globe have a chance to rethink their economic strategies to incorporate climate consideration.

For their part, the EU have signalled their intention to follow a greener path going forwards. As well as committing to robust greenhouse gas emissions targets this year, the bloc have also indicated that every euro that it invests in bolstering the economy post-crisis will be linked to sustainable or digital initiatives.

An unconvincing track record

While governments have made a decent fist of talking the talk on climate issues, they have not been quite so impressive when it comes to walking the walk. Indeed, it’s a damning indictment that even after the momentous talks in Paris in 2016, funding from rich countries towards developing ones for withstanding the pressures of climate change actually decreased in 2018.

What’s more, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have also seen an increase since COP21, rendering the exercise little more than a pointless payment of lip service. Ironically, the disruption to industry and transportation caused by COVID-19 means that CO2 emissions have actually dropped off in recent months, but it remains to be seen whether countries will build upon that platform to actually implement real change.

“If governments fail to make their economic stimulus sustainable and equitable, they will drive our planet much deeper into the existential economic, social and ecological turmoil caused by the climate crisis,” explained Sven Harmeling, a member of development charity CARE.


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