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Enjoying myself a cup of coffee in Vienna, I’m literally seeing the world slowing down in front of our eyes – the whole economy slowing down. No environmentalist should welcome a crisis, 

but we can certainly learn from it: Workplaces shutting down, events being cancelled, travel limitations. Faced with a real need to work from home, perhaps we’ll see that the benefits of workplace flexibility extend beyond what we can imagine.

Corona is a game-changer. 

That’s for sure while the detailed effects will become clearer in the following week’s. I think we can expect to see a lot of changes in the economy and management of companies.

The virus is also showing how economic disruption could have environmental benefits, and could bring long term change. Actions taken by the Chinese government have demonstrated that a minor reduction in economic growth brought carbon dioxide substantially down. Aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of emissions which saw a 4.3% decrease in February. With further cancellations of global events and limitations on travel (both state and company mandated), most likely we will only see l further reduction of emission.

It is too early to know if coronavirus will push global CO2 emissions onto the downward path, keeping global heating to a relatively safe level and aligned with the Paris agreements of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Will we save the climate with Covid-19?

Slowdown in CO2 emissions could buy some much needed time for climate action. Potentially and maybe more important: Inspire long-term behavioural changes.

I hope it helps and forces us to consider a paradigm change and maybe even a systems change. This might give a chance to reconsider our ways. How we have been living, working, and driving an economy to – ever-faster – satisfy our needs…

We really need to go and think about all these events that could actually disrupt industries and global business and think about what we’re going to do to make it more resilient. Companies might conclude that what’s good for the planet, localizing production, is a viable option to protect their supply chains from all kinds of risk, such as extreme weather events linked to climate change

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Covid-19 transformed everyday life in such a rapid state that we can even see its effects from space. Seeing a rapid drop of NO2 within the air in China due to government restrictions and lockdown policy. (source; Nasa)

A one-off emergency measure, 

The data will start becoming clear, with all emergency measures being put in place. The economic and carbon savings could prompt calls to set new norms. For travel, conferences, working and production. The response to the virus could be a demonstration that radical action works.

Why is it grabbing so much of people’s attention? 

Why don’t we see a similar panic about climate change?

The nature of the risk matters greatly in how we react to it. Coronavirus can be considered an immediate threat which has a great deal of uncertainty about its scale and impact.

Also yet, we should consider there is a significant possibility that its long-term impact is going to be negligible.

Short-term political gain and human nature shape us to have a bias. Addressing only what’s right in front of us. We know by now that governments can act, and people can change their behavior, in a very short amount of time. 

Contrastingly, climate change is mostly a future threat, but the data shows there is a high level of confidence its long-term impact without intervention will be catastrophic for humanity.

The scale of the virus response raises another question;

What would a fast, coordinated, collective response to climate change look like?

We need swift, collective and political will for rapid change. The scientific community has been giving similar warnings as to the climate crisis. If we truly treat climate as an emergency, we have to have a similar level of international coordination.

Suppose you were a maker of policies, and you were thinking about what you could do to lower emissions — you just got handed pretty good instructions.

Urgent action to prevent a pandemic is of course necessary and pressing. The corona virus poses many challenges and threats, but also a few opportunities. A prudent response to global warming would provide affordable transport, well-insulated homes, skilled green jobs and clean air. 

Let’s face it the climate crisis represents a far graver and deadlier existential threat. We’ve just got significant evidence that shows it can be done – but it needs determination and willpower, which, when it comes to the future of our planet, are desperately lacking.

There is no immediate cure. We will have to pick up what is left once everything is under control. The impact of the virus will be cultural and crucial to building an alternative and profoundly different world. There is a point of hope that could come from all of this: a new and better system, to be put in place with more respect for nature, humans and the planet.  

So, what should happen now? 

Politicians and decision-makers should take the climate crisis as urgent and important as the corona crisis. They and their kids will be affected sooner or later. To make 2020 the year of change. We, the people, should demand that.

What do you think?

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