In the early hours of 12 December, 2015, I stood together with world leaders to welcome the adoption of the Paris agreement on climate change. Years of negotiations and frustrating setbacks were capped by a two-minute round of applause for French foreign minister Laurent Fabius as he banged the gavel and ushered in an ostensibly greener, more sustainable future.
Five years on, the memory of Paris is bittersweet. Progress on what are termed the “nationally determined contributions” – the self-identified climate goals of each country – has been patchy at best, and action on all of the commitments remain worryingly low.
But there have been plenty of encouraging developments since 2015. In November 2021, Britain will host the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. Boris Johnson has set out a target to cut the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% by 2030 – the fastest rate of any major economy so far. China announced at the UN general assembly in September that it plans to reach carbon neutrality by 2060, and Japan and South Korea have pledged zero net emissions by 2050. The United States, under its new president Joe Biden, will rejoin the Paris climate accord.
But the greatest opportunity for action against the climate crisis may be the Covid-19 pandemic. This episode in history has been a tragedy: nearly 70m people have been infected globally, and more than 1.5 million have so far lost their lives. The virus has been the cause of the gravest socio-economic crisis since the second world war, with trillions poured into economic relief. For now, providing healthcare and economic relief to those affected should be the priority.
But it’s imperative that resources directed at the Covid recovery also accelerate action against the climate crisis, a threat no less urgent than this pandemic. Some politicians have already followed this reasoning: France’s president Emmanuel Macron was among the first out of the gate when his government refused to give stimulus funds to airlines that would not take steps to drastically reduce emissions.
Such measures aren’t just necessary – they’re popular. If governments are spending incredible resources on reducing unemployment and kickstarting the economic recovery, it’s only fair that those resources go towards building societies that are greener, sustainable and more resilient, rather than redoubling on the fragile models of the past. We should be expanding mass renewable energy, installing electric car charging stations, reforesting, and retrofitting homes, to name just a few examples.
This recovery is a chance to undertake visionary, transformative investments that were previously deemed too risky or expensive – and push while the door is ajar. The opportunity won’t last for ever. For organisers of next year’s climate conference, the focus should be on the post-Covid economy, and three areas in particular: how to align economic recovery with…
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