Refocusing on sustainability after COVID-19

Refocusing on sustainability after COVID-19

The coronavirus crisis has triggered the most significant economic slump since the 1930s, not to mention a huge public health emergency. The pandemic has completely changed our lives, and as a result, changed habits and attitudes. This is at both a societal and personal level, as leaders, organisations, and individuals alike reappraise their priorities.

As we emerge from the pandemic, there is no doubt we need to “build back better” and confront another urgent crisis – climate change. These moves need to be spearheaded by governments, industry and international organisations, to build on these changes in people’s habits. This could be the silver lining of the pandemic, as perhaps, it has given us the tools to address climate change in a meaningful way.

People still think climate change is a priority

In 2019, Ipsos Mori polled citizens in 14 of the world’s most powerful economies. According to their research, the number one global issue was the environment. Four out of five people felt that there was an impending environmental disaster, and something had to be done. Interestingly, post-COVID-19, attitudes haven’t changed: despite the economic fallout, 70% of respondents say that the climate crisis should still be a priority.

Governments need to sit up and listen. Well over half of the respondents said they wouldn’t vote for a political party that didn’t take climate change seriously. This is a challenge for political leaders as they negotiate the most precarious economic landscape in decades. There are also additional barriers to rolling out environmentally-friendly policy, as people become averse to public transport or favour single-use cups and utensils.

What steps are being taken?

At the beginning of the pandemic, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to the Financial Times in the midst of lockdown. He said: “We have stopped half the planet to save lives, there are no precedents for that in our history.” According to Macron, people have come to understand “that no one hesitates to make very profound, brutal choices when it’s a matter of saving lives. It’s the same for climate risk.”

This demonstrates that in major economies, governments are beginning to understand the urgency of the climate crisis. For example, C40, a new coalition of the world’s megalopolises have committed to tackling climate change. Since the beginning of the pandemic, city mayors have held a bi-weekly meeting to discuss a green recovery to the pandemic. According to Mark Watts, Executive Director of C40, “[city governments] are sensing this is the moment they have to be strong and bold to take radical steps to protect our environment.”

Action not words, from business and governments

Certainly, the pandemic has caused individuals and organisations alike to reappraise action on climate change. Ensuring the discussion is at the top of the agenda is certainly important, but it is essential that these words translate into action. Voters will play a key role in applying pressure to governments, even in the wake of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Moreover, industry and business have an important role to play. In sectors like construction, which have always been a strong indicator of economic growth, we have a particular responsibility to “build back better”. By prioritizing sustainable practices, we can spearhead the fight against climate change – and aid economic recovery at the same time.



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