“We have a situation with climate change which will involve every country in the world and from which we can’t self-isolate,” warned Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, speaking at a Policy Exchange event earlier this month. He urged industrialised nations to invest in green technologies to help spearhead economic recovery, the energy transition and “leapfrog ahead.”
Drawing parallels with the current health crisis is interesting. Not least because this crisis has been notable for its lack of government cross-border coordination and collaboration. The scientific advice to self-isolate and socially distance to control the spread of the virus has not only been communicated as a public health message. Many governments have chosen to “go it alone” when it comes to implementing measures to tackle this pandemic.
It has been incredible to see what can be achieved when our health and human life is prioritised. By acting decisively and quickly to put people before profits, vital time has been bought to slow the progress of the disease whilst a permanent solution is found.
One of the few upsides to this pandemic is the immediate, positive impact it has had on our environment and reduction in emissions. As we start to plan for a post-COVID world, I believe we need to take this opportunity to reset the environmental scales. Using the current situation to establish emissions and energy baselines and introduce changes that will ensure economic growth and prosperity and a healthier, sustainable planet.
We can’t do this in isolation.
Scientists agree that we have to maintain the current significantly reduced levels of carbon emissions for many years to come in order to stay on track for a 1.5-2.0C degree warming target. Meaning, countries and nations need to come together, and act swiftly and decisively to make an impact. Nation by nation, the world has just proven it can put people first, ground planes, ban travel (domestic and international) when it has to.
We’ve also seen the devastating economic impact these dramatic measures have had. There is no greater lesson to demonstrate the urgency of acting now to reduce emissions and combat climate change in a planned and carefully managed way. We have to limit global warming and we need to do it in a way that doesn’t result in widespread economic hardship. But are we finally ready to make the changes needed?
1. Accelerate speed of renewable energy growth
The latest IEA report highlights the continued growth in renewable energy production and consumption at a time when energy consumption across the board has dropped dramatically in response to the health emergency. As we look to restart the economy, we must now look to keep the green energy gains and avoid a return to our previous normal energy patterns. We have made steady progress in the U.K. to increase the level of renewable energy in our mix. Now is the time to push on. We managed to keep increasing the share of solar and wind in the energy mix as energy demand picked up in the aftermath of the 2009 crash. We did it then, and we can do it again.
2. Maintain reductions in energy consumption where possible
However, to keep the environmental gains made amid all the devastation and hardship of the pandemic, we cannot rely on exchanging renewable energy sources for fossil fuels alone, whilst simultaneously transitioning to clean fuels and ensuring we stimulate and develop a thriving economy. Aligning profitability and sustainability will be key to keeping a clean energy future. The latest technology solutions can help.
The reduction in energy consumption has been fuelled in part by vast swathes of the workforce working from home. Whilst household consumption has risen, office buildings lie empty and commuting largely eliminated for a significant percentage of the population.
As we emerge from this crisis, there is a clear opportunity for all businesses to review their operating infrastructure and ingrained work practices. Working from home has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by more than three million tonnes a year across the U.K. Now the systems are in place, flexible working can continue to help companies and commuters reduce their carbon footprint.
3. Eliminate energy waste
Similarly, commercial building owners and operators and households alike can leverage digital tools to enable monitoring and optimisation of energy use to identify ways to reduce energy waste and energy bills alike. Buildings are the world’s largest consumers of energy and hold the greatest untapped potential for savings. These technological advances coupled with investment to improve the efficiency of our aging building stock could go a long way to keeping energy emissions lower whilst we transition to less carbon intensive technologies for heat and transport.
Once this crisis is behind us, the economic relaunch is an opportunity to positively transform our society and promote decisions and investments leading to decarbonisation, decentralisation, and digitisation. What’s important is businesses don’t need to go it alone. Organisations such as the European Union’s Green Recovery Alliance exist to provide the necessary investment solutions, aligned with climate commitments, to help revive the economy after the crisis.
As we move forward, I hope we can build on the savings inadvertently made to our carbon impact over the last few weeks. If one positive thing can come from this crisis, the beginning of a sustained downward emissions trend would be something. The reality is that we have one shared planet. There is simply no option to self-isolate from climate change. We are all in it together – individuals, companies, countries. Whilst individuals, companies and countries can make a difference. To limit global warming, we all need to work together.
This article was originally published in Forbes.