Faced with Covid-19, governments took drastic action. The same urgent response is needed to tackle the climate emergency
As the world continues to grapple with Covid-19, leaders are meeting at the United Nations today to discuss another crisis: climate change. Though these crises are different, both require global action to stop them running out of control. The fundamental difference is our response.
Faced with Covid-19, governments took drastic action. This followed three basic steps: identify the precise cause of the problem through expert scientific advice, pass legislation focused on the cause, and employ a robust feedback mechanism to assess progress and adjust the approach.
We have all become familiar with feedback in the form of the R number – and the current tightening of restrictions in the UK is a direct response to its rise as a result of a surge in Covid-19 cases.
In the 1980s, we followed a similar three-step approach to tackle depletion of the ozone layer – and the resulting restoration of the ozone layer is one of humanity’s greatest environmental success stories.
But on climate change, this isn’t happening. Current global climate commitments only express an intention to solve the climate crisis. They are the equivalent of intending to end the Covid-19 pandemic without a plan for social distancing to reduce the spread of the virus.
Instead, we could use the three-step structure as follows.
Step one: we already know that burning fossil fuels is the leading direct cause of the climate crisis, followed by deforestation to create more land for crops and livestock.
Step two: we should be examining every policy, every law and every trade agreement with an overarching goal of decreasing fossil fuel use by transitioning to green energy. A fundamental reason that we can succeed is that solar and wind power are now becoming cheaper than fossil fuels for generating electricity, and nearly all of our energy needs can be met by electricity. The main reason that we are not solving the climate crisis is not a lack of green energy solutions; it is government policies that continue energy strategies that prioritise fossil fuels. There is simply no justification to use fossil fuels if green energy is cheaper.
Step three: the robust feedback mechanism should include monitoring planned fossil fuel production, which despite climate intentions is planned to increase into the future.
Currently, the world has no step three – there is no plan to change our approach if it is not working.
Read more: Independent