We tend to see climate change and Covid-19 as discrete disruptive forces that are shaping our lives today. Rarely are these issues considered in combination.
And it’s fair to say that with the myriad challenges Covid-19 has presented, many governments have been focused on firefighting immediate pressures. In the main, climate change hasn’t yet created an emergency situation of this urgency, except for - most notably - in countries that have experienced major forest fires.
Covid is a fast-hitting issue that is at its heart a health crisis, becoming a societal, economic and political crisis. Climate change is operating on a different timescale - a disruption that hasn’t thrown our world into disarray to the degree coronavirus has…. Yet. We can, still, overlook it in a way we simply cannot with Covid-19. But it risks causing more profound and lasting damage to our health and wellbeing, our societal stability, our economic resilience and our ways of living than the current pandemic.
And in fact these concurrent emergencies – for in some countries the climate has been recognised as an emergency – are in fact intertwined. How?
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has commented:
"Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases."
The report explains that sustained degradation of the environment will increase the risk of cause pandemics by bringing more people into contact and conflict with animals, from which 70% of emerging human diseases originate.
Alongside this, urbanisation and the growth of global air travel are making it easier than ever before for viruses to be spread globally.
It’s clear there is an urgent need to investigate the connections between the natural environment and the risk of pandemics. And UN climate science reports due in 2021 will examine the links between pandemics and human pressures on the natural world to guide policymakers around the world.
The positive angle on this is that now represents an important moment in time – to ‘build back better’. We can relate Covid-19 and climate change in a positive way – with one propelling progress in addressing the other.
The European Green Deal, launched by the European Commission in December 2019, outlines a framework of regulations and legislation aimed at achieving the EU´s targets of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and a 50% to 55% cut in emissions from 1990 levels by 2030. Across Europe, business leaders are emphasising the need for coronavirus recovery a chance for a reset to build a more sustainable, inclusive economy.
And in the UK, more than 200 leading UK firms and investors are calling on the government to deliver a Covid-19 recovery plan that prioritises the environment.
There is potential to drive positive change, if we seize the opportunity now.