Adapting to a Crisis: Lessons from the Covid-19 response for tackling Climate Change

Munim Imran
Although Covid-19 and climate change are two different crises, there are commonalities in how we must respond. This article reviews the adaption measures used to tackle the pandemic and how we have inadvertently been given a vantage point to conceptualise the collective changes needed to respond to the climate crisis.

We cannot wait for the technology

In the absence of a vaccine, we have made changes to our behaviours and practices as individuals which has largely supported in reducing the damaging potential of Covid-19. For most of us, working from home doesn’t require much that isn’t already available to us; laptops, wi-fi, communication platforms such as Skype and Zoom. We can take on similar personal responsibility to reduce our individual and collective climate impacts thus reducing our carbon footprint, for example, by more frequent usage of existing bicycle and public transport infrastructure.

Advancement of green technologies is important in achieving climate protection, but this is only one aspect of the multi-faceted approach that’s required. Despite breakthroughs in green technologies, research and development is ongoing and will take a long time to implement and build the associated infrastructure. We’ve learned that we can’t be contingent on scientific development alone to confront the pandemic when action is needed sooner. Equally, to help moderate the rising damages of the climate crisis, we must commit to making effective use of the solutions available today.

Adjusting how we work

The Covid-19 lockdown has seen a significant reduction in vehicle usage in the UK whilst many people and organisations are able to sustain a ‘business as usual’ attitude by working from home. This disruption has positively led to a dip in carbon emissions in the transportation sector and many people have welcomed the idea of continuing to work from home after the lockdown.

Of course, we can’t all permanently work from home. Migration to electric vehicles (EV) is a priority on most agendas for achieving climate protection. The Scottish Government has already introduced Low Emission Zones in Glasgow City Centre and has plans to phase out diesel and petrol cars by 2032 in its’ Programme for Scotland 2019/20. One challenge with EV is delivering the infrastructure required to meet the large-scale demand. However, we should be looking to ourselves for how we can reduce demand in the first instance, and encouragement of home-working is one proven solution.

With fewer cars in the cities, a review of how public transport networks and cycle lanes are organised should be undertaken to optimise how people move around urban quarters. Less vehicular traffic would open up space for increased public realm, tree planting and cycle shelters – an array of positive knock-on effects as a result of culturally accepting that we don’t need to travel as much. 

Businesses are adaptive and resilient

Many businesses have had to temporarily shut their doors after being deemed as non-essential, however, some businesses have shown resilience by diversifying their products and services to help combat the spread of Covid-19. A number of Scotland’s distillers, such as BrewDog and Leith Gin, are using their resources to mass-produce ethanol for hand sanitisers and are distributing this to organisations in need. Decathlon, a sports equipment retailer, have offered their stock of snorkelling masks and waterproof garments to firms who can repurpose this in to PPE and alleviate the shortage in our hospitals. Although these examples are piecemeal, they give insight to how businesses can avoid a disorderly transition to alternative consumer demands.

Businesses are integral to solving the climate crisis and major companies have the resources to transition over to cleaner operations; the automotive industry being an example of such change. Government financial packages are anticipated to rebuild our social and economic systems following the lockdown, which the Committee on Climate Change have recommended are used to fund a greener and more resilient economy in a letter to the Scottish and UK Governments. 

A leading generation

In order to protect the vulnerable groups, we, the younger generations, have shown adaptability and commitment by practising social distancing and breaking away from our usual routines for a cause much greater. Being adept to today’s digital technology; flexible to changing work and travel modes; creative and commercially savvy – this is the résumé of a generation prepared to lead the societal shift towards greener principles, especially given the youngest demographic is likely to experience the effects of climate change more within their lifetime.

As individuals, our actions in response to the pandemic have shown clearly that we have the adaptive capacity to challenge climate change. The speed of change in our behaviours is contributable to the immediate and tangible threat of Covid-19, forcing us to adapt quickly. The threat of the climate crisis is well known, however, because of its’ planetary scale, we don’t seem to accept our causal relationship in the same way. Cultural change is at the spearhead in our fight against the climate crisis – and our collective response to the Covid-19 pandemic has uncovered our capacity to strike today.

Sustainable Business Strategy

As an SNC-Lavin business, Faithful & Gould aligns its’ sustainability goals with the Sustainable Policy Statement and Sustainable Business Strategy announced by our President and CEO in November 2019. The Strategy demonstrates a long-term commitment to the UN 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goals and defines how the Company will achieve these through client advisory services and internal initiatives for reducing its’ own carbon footprint.

Of the UN Goals, Climate (13), Affordable and Clean Energy (11) and Sustainable Cities and Communities (7) will be the primary focus of the Strategy over the next five years.

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