The COVID-19 pandemic teaches valuable lessons on how to better act on the climate crisis.
For the first time in history, Earth Day will be celebrated digitally as a result of the lockdowns implemented as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In its 50th year, Earth Day’s theme is climate action.
Due to this pandemic, mobilisation has gone digital. A sudden change, yes — one that emphasizes that the call for greater global ambition in tackling the climate crisis knows no borders.
More than the way we campaign for leaders and societies to step in, COVID-19 might change how we view climate action for good.
In their quarterly publication, McKinsey takes on the discussion of climate action in a world after the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s boil it down to the main points.
Knowing the difference between a pandemic and a climate crisis will lend some insights on why the climate crisis is being acted upon at a glacial pace.
Unlike a pandemic with a discernible effect, the effects of climate change, over time, are cumulative. With our natural predisposition to address what is the most immediate, it is understandable why acting on climate change is slow — the rewards do not come as easily.
Moreover, the risk associated with a pandemic is contagion risk, meaning it has the ability to tax interconnected markets at once and severely paralyze economic systems.
Meanwhile, the risk associated with climate change is that of an accumulation risk, meaning it exacerbates multiple, smaller negative events at once instead of causing one huge disaster.
The individual effects of climate change today may not be as heavy as that of a pandemic. But because the effects are cumulative as previously mentioned, we are permitting these small effects to add up over time by ignoring them.
Looking at the similarities of the pandemic and climate change, on the other hand, provides lessons that may help us improve climate action in a post-pandemic world.
Both a pandemic and a climate crisis are physical shocks. With this, they can only be resolved by addressing the physical causes that trigger them. If we are to stop the onset of a full-pledged crisis, then we had better invest on reducing the impact of our activities in worsening the state of our climate. More than politics, we should be making concrete actions.
Both a pandemic and a climate crisis require resilience. Instead of waiting for a global crisis to emerge before we act, we should develop systems that will prevent one to begin with.
What we can adopt from this pandemic
There are some measures we have made in this pandemic that can be also applied to accelerate climate action.
First, this pandemic has catalysed the future of work, compelling companies to think of ways to enable work outside the office. By adopting a more flexible work setup after the pandemic, we can reduce emissions due to transportation.
Second, the repatriation of supply chains would also be valuable in cutting down the indirect emissions of businesses due to outsourcing and importing energy.
Third, tackling the climate crisis from a scientific standpoint just like how we have dealt with this pandemic will make it easier to create policies that are truly effective.
The climate crisis, just like the COVID-19 pandemic, demands global cooperation. With each country doing their part in curbing the climate crisis, we can accumulate action that can nullify the accumulating risk.
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