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OPINION: Five takeaways from COVID-19 for addressing the climate change crisis

Keshav Jha of CDKN Asia considers how societies’ responses to the coronavirus crisis can orientate them to more effective climate action in the long run.

COVID-19 has shaken the very foundations of our lives and the systems on which we all depend. It has brought all of us together to seek new solutions and approaches to adapt to the new reality – either by following the stringent social distancing or ‘shelter at home’ guidelines. Furthermore, the strong commitment by countries and multilateral development agencies to addressing the crisis is reflected in their announcements of huge sums of stimulus finance and highly subsidised capital to save jobs and sustain investment. Tackling global crises often requires new levels of action and difficult decisions. This has been the case with the COVID-19 crisis.

We require a similar level of seriousness, if not more, in responding to the climate crisis, which threatens human wellbeing and environmental sustainability equally. While it has been extremely challenging to face a new reality in the wake of COVID-19, this whole episode bolsters our sense of confidence to tackle and address the underlying climate crisis. The responses to COVID-19 generate new hope in our collective action to meet the Paris agreement goal of limiting the global average temperature to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels. Timely and effective government policies backed up by community responses are instrumental in tackling any global crisis. Here are five key takeaway messages – lessons for the climate crisis – in light of COVID-19:

(1)   The clock is ticking: Climate change is an equally, if not more, serious global crisis than COVID-19, which deserves the same kind of attention. Average temperatures have been increasing and rainfall has become more erratic; societies have also suffered a series of extreme climate-induced shocks and stresses. The impacts of those events on economies are huge. There are several countries, particularly least developed countries, who are not able to cope up with the extent of the loss and damage. It is believed that the cost of inaction (in terms of climate change-related loss and damage) is becoming increasingly unaffordable for several countries around the world.

(2)   New meaningful global cooperation: The whole global community needs to come together to demonstrate the power of collective wisdom and action to tackle the climate crisis. Global cooperation must be accelerated and a new and meaningful partnership for climate action should be forged that is rooted deeply in the principles of equity, justice and sustainability. Such meaningful cooperation could lead to innovation in identifying risks and opportunities on the environment, social and government aspects of the climate change crisis response.

(3)   Transforming measures: The response to  climate change requires us to move – overall – from conventional approaches to more advanced and effective technologies and solutions. Transformation is needed at all levels of governance, in policy instruments and decision-making. And, transformational measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change will need to be found rapidly. While seeking advanced transformative solutions, though, we should not totally discount the relevance of conventional approaches for least developed and developing economies in the time being.

(4)   Private sector partnership: It is abundantly clear that the climate crisis cannot be solved alone by governments and public authorities. The private sector, including corporate and civil society actors, needs to come forward to engage effectively in finding innovative solutions and implementing them. New investment in clean energy and climate change adaptation should be accelerated. These need to both reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and also create new green job opportunities and lead us to sustainable lifestyles. New market-based instruments to contain greenhouse gas emissions and set a sufficiently high price on carbon need to be explored.

(5)   Knowledge dissemination and capacity building: The role of peer-to-peer learning around climate change solutions is important in leapfrogging to a sustainable economy. Considering the severe lack of technical capacity especially among the least developed and developing economies, the countries must learn from their peers and leverage their experience. Usually, it is observed that there is a significant need for capacity building and training of public and private sector officials in designing and implementing low carbon, climate-resilient economies.


Image: taking precautions against coronavirus in Mali, courtesy World Bank Group.

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