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Sat, 6 June 2020

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This coronavirus pandemic must shape our thinking and action over the climate crisis

This coronavirus pandemic must shape our thinking and action over the climate crisis

The accelerating climate emergency cannot withstand delay, so any postponement is a real setback, writes Caroline Lucas MP. | PA Images

3 min read

The delay to COP26 gives us a chance to change course and show what climate leadership means in the wake of a pandemic and global economic crisis.

With so many major events falling victim to the coronavirus pandemic, it was probably only a matter of time before the UN climate summit followed suit.

This is a huge blow for the climate movement.  So much rested on this summit, known as COP26, which was supposed to close the gap between the aspirations of the Paris Agreement (keeping global heating to 1.5C) and what countries have so far committed to, which would actually - disastrously - deliver warming of 3C or more.

The accelerating climate emergency cannot withstand delay, so any postponement is a real setback.  But it makes it even more important that we turn this delay into an opportunity to ensure COP26 is a success, something which in all honesty was looking increasingly unlikely for November.

When we rebuild our economy on the other side of this pandemic, we must do so by investing in our long term future so that our economic recovery is a green recovery.  

Ministerial minds are now understandably focused on coronavirus. But what they are learning as they respond to this crisis must shape their thinking, and action, over the climate crisis.

The first lesson should be the cost of delay. The graphs that pepper news feeds every day show the importance of acting early to avoid the worst case scenarios. Weeks, even days, matter.

The climate crisis is measured not in weeks but in years or decades. But the same lesson applies: the later action is taken, the worse the impacts. And climate action has been delayed for years with targets set for 2050, which is far too late to achieve the emissions cuts that the science tells us we must.

There is another lesson: the importance of governments intervening in, and guiding, the economy at a time of crisis, with a focus on people’s wellbeing. 

The Government has rightly stepped in to invest hundreds of billions of pounds in protecting businesses and people’s livelihoods.  More investment will be needed when it is over, to rebuild and redirect an economy which has effectively been put in hibernation during the lockdown.

The decisions the Chancellor is taking today could shape our society for decades to come.

That means rejecting the obvious and perhaps easy choice of returning to business-as-before, indiscriminately bailing out industries like airlines or the oil and gas sector which have been fuelling the climate emergency for years.

It means avoiding the danger that we respond to one crisis by making others worse. 

When we rebuild our economy on the other side of this pandemic, we must do so by investing in our long term future so that our economic recovery is a green recovery.  We must emerge from this crisis better prepared for the future and ready to pass on to our children and grandchildren a society built on principles of fairness and sustainability.

When we host the climate summit next year, we need to do so with our own house in order.  The delay gives us a chance to change course and show what climate leadership means in the wake of a pandemic and global economic crisis.

That must be the legacy of coronavirus.

 

Caroline Lucas is the Green MP for Brighton Pavillion.

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