April 12, 2021

Building back better post pandemic and the urgent need for action over pledges

By Vaughan Lindsay, CEO, ClimateCare

Not only has the Covid-19 pandemic affected our health and personal lives, but it has also and indeed continues to, fundamentally challenge our political, social, and economic norms. Most notably it has impacted how many businesses think about tackling the big issues like climate change. In this article we will talk about the similarities (and differences) between tackling Covid -19 and the climate crisis. We will also discuss how, as we emerge out of lockdown, we will need to start to re-tool in order to build back better, rather than simply restarting the engines. There has never been more of a need for real action, right now to tackle climate change.

Covid-19 vs climate change

The parallels between the Coronavirus response and how we could all collaboratively tackle the climate crisis should not be overlooked. Tackling either problem, for instance, has changed our lifestyle in so many ways. In short, we have all have to make adaptations for a much longer-term gain. I also believe that the pandemic has highlighted to us all that we can live differently; indeed, that we are all incredibly adaptable.

Nevertheless, there are also some very important differences too; namely the speed in which we witness effects and how long we will all live with the impact. Covid-19 is more immediate, it’s on everyone’s minds (no matter how fatigued we all are by the topic after a year of living with it). Climate change, on the other hand, feels like a much longer-term threat which doesn’t invoke the same kind of unease or fear – or at least not enough for people to take immediate action. Yet, as Mark Carney so eloquently summed up recently, the world is heading for mortality rates equivalent to the Covid crisis every year by mid-century unless action is taken right now. “One of the biggest issues is you cannot self-isolate from climate,” he said. “That is not an option. We cannot retreat in and wait out climate change, it will just get worse.” Bill Gates also further highlighted the severity of the situation too when he recently commented that solving climate change would be “the most amazing thing humanity has ever done” and by comparison, ending the pandemic is “very, very easy”, the billionaire founder of Microsoft claimed.

An active response

Ultimately, the short-term imperative of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic doesn’t alter the urgency of dealing with the climate crisis. And certainly, there is currently no ‘silver bullet’ for solving either the pandemic or climate change. However, there are a set of agreed actions that every business and individual can (and should) take to help tackle these issues.

For Covid-19 it’s about working from home, social distancing, washing our hands and wearing masks to protect one another and the NHS. And of course, continuing to roll out the vaccines and treatments for longer term protection.

For climate change, it’s about understanding and taking responsibility for our climate impact, both by changing our behaviour to reduce our carbon footprint and by decarbonising many of our business models and lifestyles. .

Building back better

If we are indeed going to ‘build back better’ then we need to work towards a sustainable low or zero carbon recovery, and this needs to be done with realism and integrity. Not only does this mean that we need to work together to create integrated and robust climate strategies, but we also need to take action to decarbonise sooner rather than later and while we make these structural changes, we need to ensure that we are compensating for all residual emissions as part of everyday business too.

Action over pledges

Last year, and despite the pandemic, it was encouraging to see the ever-increasing number of corporates committing to achieve Net Zero status. However, whilst it is great to see firms working hard to measure their footprint and set reduction targets, many firms still admitted to us that they are waiting to get this right before they take action to reduce and compensate for their emissions. This remains a concern. Because, whilst these plans and long-term targets are commendable, they do little for the environmental damage that is being done right now. There is a risk of action hiding behind plans.
Ultimately, we need to more than halve emissions by 2030; this is equivalent to reducing the current emissions of China, India, the EU and the US combined. It’s a mammoth task. To tackle it we need to drive actions simultaneously and at pace, and then modify and adjusting moving forward. In simple terms, there really isn’t time to take things one step at a time anymore. We need to take action right away. As such – and as we continue through this coming year – we need to see more of these ambitious plans and statements put into practice, as companies continue to turn their plans (and pledges) into action.

Raising the bar

The issue of climate change is now central to nearly all forward-thinking corporates and we are now witnessing one of most encouraging environments for them to act on this. It’s vital to ensure that the role of the voluntary carbon market delivers real additional emission reductions on the ground and at scale.

Never before has there been a better time to raise the bar and our own ambitions about what positive corporate action looks like. Because the climate will not respond to targets and pledges. Only action counts.