While the climate crisis has taken a back seat to the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s much we can learn from the past year’s global efforts, writes Elaine Burke.
The past year has seen the world in crisis. It has also seen the world in cooperation against a global threat.
A concerted effort to tackle Covid-19 was, of course, necessary in the face of the immediate danger presented by the pandemic. And it has proven that such monumental coordinated effort can be made even when what is required of us threatens great economic disruption.
Does this, then, change the conversation around what is necessary in the global response to the climate crisis? Much like the argument that mass remote working couldn’t work has been disproven by necessity, might we also successfully dispense with the notion that the systemic change required to save us from complete climate catastrophe is impossible?
We are still in the midst of one global crisis but another has been threatening for decades and is set to escalate rapidly in the next. What we have learned from the global response to Covid-19 needs to be applied to climate action.
One of the greatest tools we have to dismantle the climate crisis that is building up around us is sustainability. By definition, this is our ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the future.
Sadly, this has not been our approach to business, manufacturing, food production and services since the dawn of the industrial revolution. Much of our future is already compromised, irrevocably, owing to a sustained reluctance to make climate-conscious changes in the present. This, simply, cannot continue.
The World Health Organization estimates that the climate crisis will result in an additional 250,000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050. This forecast focuses on deaths that can be directly attributed to the changing climate, and is therefore said to be a conservative estimate. Other climate-related factors expected to affect the future death toll include population displacement and the impact of extreme weather events on health services.
Taking these predictions into account, it’s no exaggeration to say the future of humanity on this planet hangs in the balance. And the way to secure that future and mitigate this loss of life is to be sustainable in everything we do. How we live our lives. How we run our businesses. How we heat our homes. How we power our technology. The food we eat. The clothes we wear. How we make our choices day by day needs to be underpinned by sustainability.
Choices, however, are often a luxury afforded only to the better-off.
‘What we have learned from the global response to Covid-19 needs to be applied to climate action’
Going back to what we have learned from the coronavirus crisis, an Oxfam study dubbed Covid-19 ‘the inequality virus’. In a study released in January, the charity group found that the world’s 1,000 richest people recouped their Covid-19 losses within just nine months, while the world’s poorest would need more than a decade to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic.
The climate crisis is set to bear the same hallmarks of inequality, whereby the world’s poorest are expected to suffer most from its impacts. And, according to a UN report, this bears out a vicious cycle resulting in greater subsequent inequality.
But a sustainable world must be an equal world. This is why just transitions are such an integral part of climate action. We won’t get support for systemic change unless it’s fair on those who need to make substantial changes.
Economies that confer unfair advantages to some sow discontent and demotivate those outside the winning circle. If we need everyone to contribute to climate action, we need everyone to reap the benefits.
‘If something as economically obsessed as a VC fund can shapeshift to a circular, more sustainable model, anything can’
Is this new world possible? Again, look at what the past year has taught us. Many of the practices businesses adopted to continue operating under Covid-19 restrictions were already tried and tested by forerunners in new ways of working. The same is true of sustainability. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel in order to roll out the circular economy.
Take 2050, for example, an investment fund taking a new approach to venture capital. Announced last year, 2050 is out to support businesses addressing problems such as equality and sustainability, “aligning their own economic interests with those of society and the planet”, according to founder Marie Ekeland.
Because the fact is there’s no unimpeachable rule saying these things can’t be aligned. It takes some rejigging, but it’s possible. In the case of 2050, it’s a new approach to VC that eschews the partner-led model for one that is based on public companies owned by non-profits or trusts. It’s also circular in that 2050 intends to share knowledge with other businesses with similar goals – which, in turn, will broaden its market opportunity for investable start-ups.
If something as economically obsessed as a VC fund can shapeshift to a circular, more sustainable model, anything can. Systemic change is necessary in order to create a new world to save the planet. It may seem impossible but as a global community we have reached Mars several times over. Impossible is just a matter of will.
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