COVID-19 has paved the way for low-carbon lifestyles that public authorities must sustain

Climate action

The COVID-19 crisis has shed light on the vulnerability of our healthcare and global economic systems, but it has also, paradoxically, opened our eyes to the many advantages of a low-carbon lifestyle, writes Wendel Trio.

This op-ed was originally published by The Parliament Magazine on 8 June 2020.

Wendel Trio is Director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe.

The COVID-19 crisis has revealed the things that really matter to us: good health, well-being, the importance of the local community and nature. Altogether these are key ingredients to make our lives more resilient in the face of disruptions.

This challenges the neo-liberal assumption that interpersonal competition and profit-making are the main drivers of people’s behaviour. And it makes a strong case for putting sustainability principles at the heart of the post-COVID-19 recovery.

The COVID-19 crisis has shed light on the vulnerability of our healthcare and global economic systems, but it has also, paradoxically, opened our eyes to the many advantages of a low-carbon lifestyle.

Not just in terms of reduced emissions, but also in terms of increased well-being, like breathing better air and enjoying the silence as if we all lived in remote areas of the countryside for a period of time.

People under the lockdown walked and cycled more, discovering nature near to them rather than long-distance flying. They also bought more local, favouring ties with the local community over shopping in distant, impersonal malls.

However, such benefits did not happen as they should have. As we know, it is the epidemic outbreak that has prompted such a change in lifestyle at least for much of the population.

It was a positive side-effect of the crisis, but unfortunately not the fruit of the political will needed to reconcile human activities, the natural world, and the climate.

So the benefits we have all seen and experienced, like the decline of CO2 emissions and other air pollutants, will be short-lived without strong political commitments to stop climate-wrecking economic models and to embark on sustainable energy systems and economies.

Such a framework is needed to adapt lifestyles to the zero-carbon world we need. For instance, prices should better reflect what is harmful to the environment or not, in order to drive consumption and production patterns in the right direction.

And governments need to end support to fossil fuels. This type of consistency is a must to protect people from terrible shocks similar to the one we are facing with the pandemic.

Without such a political commitment, we know that climate-polluting emissions will rapidly bounce back. Hence, we need radical change now. The COVID-19 has shown us that prevention is better than cure. The same logic must apply to climate change.

And the challenge is big. According to the latest IPCC report on climate change, governments must do much more and much more quickly to avoid dangerous climate change and prevent temperature rise from exceeding 1.5°C as agreed in the Paris Agreement.

This means mainly two things for the EU: to dramatically increase its climate ambition in the short-term and ensure that the EU recovery does not further worsen climate change with continued support to fossil fuels.

More climate action will also secure people with huge economic and job creation potential in the long term. Green stimuli are among the most beneficial for any economic recovery.

At the same time, they have a strong potential to cut greenhouse gas emissions, thus reducing the costs of increased climate change to our livelihoods and economies.

Besides the relaunch of the economy, 2020 is the year when all countries have to come up with increased climate ambition for 2030.

With a climate target of 65 percent emission cuts by 2030, the EU could steer its massive recovery measures in a direction that both modernises our economic system and contributes to mitigating global warming at the same time.

Citizens do not expect politicians to return to the vulnerable pre-COVID world we suffocated in. On the contrary, they want them to draw the lessons from the crisis to build back better after the pandemic.

A key aspect is to produce policies that prevent other crises from happening, like climate change and the consequences of biodiversity loss. May they be heard.