How to fight climate change with Covid-19 tactics

By Asitha Jayawardena

The battle is still on. The battle against the coronavirus, or Covid-19.

According to China, humanity’s fight against coronavirus started in December 2019 and, now, it is 9 months. The search for a vaccine is the main victory but nobody has found a suitable vaccine as such.

Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that Covid-19 pandemic will be over within 2 years. If that is true, when COP26, or UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, starts on 1 November 2021, the coronavirus is at its last breath.

Back to the present. When Covid-19 hit all over the world, we had three options to do: washing hands, social distancing and wearing masks.

Now, what do we learn from the coronavirus pandemic so that we will successfully counter the climate crisis afterwards, with a postponed COP26?

Climate crisis is different but it has similar properties that we can build upon:

  • Priority to people
  • Make a cultural shift
  • Coronavirus is fast, climate change is slow
  • Science leads the way Nature is supreme
  • Nature is supreme

Priority to people

Priority is given to people in the coronavirus pandemic while economic development nose-dived. Patients, medical staff and other vulnerable groups are protected from Covid-19. People worked from home while the motorways and other transport routes were deserted. Until the last month, the air travel fell to the bottom and now the 14-day quarantine is mandatory when holidaymakers return from infected countries. Moreover, hand washing, social distancing and mask-wearing are mandatory in most settings of the domestic circles in the UK.

Covid-19 has a mortality rate of 14 per 100,000 people while climate change could kill 73 extra deaths per 100,000 people. If emissions are low, the death rate drops to 10 per 100,000. By 2060,

climate change could be just as deadly as Covid-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly.

We are facing a climate crisis that is harsher than a coronavirus pandemic and we must do the same for the former if we want to live in a climate-friendly world. There are many measures, including use energy from renewables, divest from fossil fuels, eat local and seasonal, fly if you have to, say no to plastic, plant trees and walk and cycle.

Make a cultural shift

In the lockdown for Covid-19, many people had a space for reflection as the means of how we work, travel and socialize is transformed in small time – weeks and months, not decades. When the coronavirus was high during the lockdown, new thinking tuned in – work from home, a surge in cycling and little air travel. For example, the online grocery sales in the U.S. boomed from $4 billion in March to $7.2 billion in June thanks to many people working from home.

A similar cultural shift should be exercised for climate change. Examples include the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere through cultivation, planting trees or recycling them.

When a cultural shift is on its way, people cannot move against it unless you are a mad person who is out of touch with the whole world.

Coronavirus is fast, climate change is slow

The pandemic of coronavirus devastated economies and communities for 9 months, causing economies to tumble while robbing 830,000 lives worldwide. As already mentioned, the director of the WHO thinks that the coronavirus will be over within two years, given successful vaccines is found.

However, the climate crisis would happen over the decades and centuries and is slow to make considerable impacts. It will damage the economy, society and the environment in the years to come but slowly. Until 2030, we have only 10 years to correct it. Mark Carney, then the Bank of England governor, in 2015, said that once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late. Now is the time and this is an opportunity to fix the climate crisis before it’s too late.

Reduction of carbon dioxide emissions is the number one priority. International Energy Agency states the reduction this year as around 8 per cent and we will release the equivalent of around 47 billion tons of carbon, instead of 51 billion. If we do it annually, we are fine but we cannot do it in the next ten years (as we continue to emit carbon emissions).

If by 2030, we have not cut greenhouse gas emissions by half globally, we will not be able to avoid the tipping points that would destroy the global economy while posing existential human threats. The cost of inaction is $600tn by the end of the century.

Right now, the governments should scrap $400bn in fossil fuel subsidies while backing energy efficiency as well as clean energy and infrastructure. Moreover, World Bank’s lead economist on climate change Stéphane Hallegatte, says that other potential investments, such as restoration of degraded lands, sanitation and sustainable transport infrastructure should be used as well. 

Science leads the way

In search of a new vaccine for coronavirus, people today are unusually concerned with scientific developments. An immunologist at the University of Manchester and academic lead for the public engagement programme, Sheena Cruickshank responds for the first time such things as the working of the T-cells and the mechanism of the immune system. The trust of the people has been on the experts, such as epidemiologists, immunologists and doctors.

The same should be done on climate change and trust should be built upon by climate scientists and policy advisors.

An expert on climate change, Michael Mann, director of Earth System Science Center of the Penn State University, states that long-term changes in how people do work and other activities have changed but not nearly enough to beat climate change.

Decarbonization of transportation and transition away from fossil fuel use across the board is the key, says Mann. “The main lesson is that personal behavioural change alone won’t get us the reductions we need,” Mann says. “We need fundamental systemic change, and that means policy incentives. We won’t get that unless we vote in politicians who will work in our interest rather than the polluting interests.” In other words, science first and politics next.

To limit global warming to 1.5oC, people would have to decrease carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 while reaching net carbon-zero by 2050.

Nature is supreme

It’s natural. The bat is the cause of the coronavirus and the pangolin acts as the intermediary. Bats harbour many viruses because their immunity is strong.

Similarly, climate change has the element of nature, such as renewable energy, decarbonisation of transport and avoidance of fossil fuels. The biodiversity should be maintained and it should include human beings too.

The planet has survived for 4.5 billion years and human beings have appeared around 200,000 or 300,000 years ago. For 4.4 plus billion years, the earth was devoid of human beings.

As we have seen from the coronavirus pandemic, the earth is going to say no to humans. It will happen if we fail to use the next 10 years to climate friendliness.


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