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The stark similarities between Covid-19 and the climate crisis

Duncan Grierson

03 April 2020 Sustainability

The systems that our world is built on are changing quickly and dramatically due to the Covid-19 crisis, at a pace unimaginable just a few weeks ago. Swift government action to adapt our systems has proven that a global response to a global problem is possible.

For the Clim8 team, this raises the important question: can a response of this scale be repeated for the climate crisis?

Covid-19 and Climate Crisis

Both crises are global. No country is immune from either Covid-19 or the effects of climate change. Similarly, they will both impact some countries more severely than others. For example, low altitude nations are at the highest risk of rising sea levels. Nations with rudimentary healthcare systems face more intense challenges.

Both crises are pernicious in the scale of potential deaths. Covid-19 has the potential to kill millions of people around the world. The impact of the climate crisis has already cost many lives and has the potential to be very deadly. 

We will witness famine, droughts and longer-lasting heatwaves. By continuing on our current path, global temperatures will increase by more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, triggering lethal scenarios. 

Economic disruption from both crises is also a grave concern. Estimates are of trillions of dollars of impact resulting from Covid-19. 

The potential economic impact of climate breakdown is also in the trillions, but could end up dwarfing the total damage caused by Covid-19. Climate change threatens so many elements of our society and way of life, that its economic impact is almost immeasurable. Agricultural damage, flooding and power grid disruption alone could knock the world’s economy into a steep decline. Climate-related food shortages could also force tens of millions of people back into poverty, which will lead to increased vulnerability to health problems. 

Why such dramatic differences in the responses?

As the world came to realise the severity of the Covid-19 threat, leaders took drastic action. Lockdowns of cities, restrictions on movement, mass school closures, postponement of sports events (even the Olympic games), and a large reduction in transport use.

Despite the starker threat posed by the climate crisis, response from governments has been relatively passive. Our perception of global warming is different to that of a killer virus. Dramatic video footage of floods and bushfires are not necessarily directly associated with climate change.

Governments, businesses and individuals need to look further down the line into the future. 

We have the means to mitigate dangerous global warming through coordinated global action and a move towards sustainable business models. We need to work together to make sure climate change is no longer perceived as a distant threat by governments, businesses and individuals. Encouragingly, many people are thinking longer term now.

What is the key learning from the Covid-19 response?

Change is possible! The recent upheavals to our way of life haven’t been straightforward, but have proven our capacity to adapt as a society. Social distancing, working from home, supporting vulnerable people, avoiding transport, and an increase in hygiene are all impressive achievements. Factories have converted their production processes in order to provide more ventilators for the NHS. We can now confidently say that we can adapt to an altered way of living when necessary.

The reason for hope

Taking action on a global scale is possible. This crisis has proven unequivocally that international action can happen quickly and decisively in response to powerful threats. 

While the current Covid-19 crisis is frightening, we must not lose hope. It is important to recognise that global systems change can happen, and fast. In just a few months, we’ve seen how humanity is capable of incredible feats, innovation and international coordination when it matters most. 

Our mission at Clim8 is to support innovations designed to combat climate change. Together, through our collective investments, we can enable inspiring organisations to bring about the change we need to tackle the climate crisis head on.

Join us on our journey.