Amid the Coronavirus crisis the climate emergency has not gone away

A blog post by Catherine Gee

Catherine Gee
Deputy Chief Executive

Posted 18/05/2020

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One of the positives we can take from the situation we currently find ourselves in is the way in which people have joined forces to tackle the global health crisis we currently face.

With collective responsibility, we’ve responded to the Covid-19 pandemic to protect our communities and save lives. We’ve adapted to a way of living that no-one could have predicted and accepted changes which will stay with us after the pandemic has passed.

For many, the aftermath of Covid-19 will be a changed world view. The scramble by government and business to curb the spread of infection may well shape how we work and travel in future, hopefully reducing carbon emissions.

Critically, the ongoing response to the crisis will influence how we realign our communities and rebuild our economy longer term.

This chance to hit the reset button – showing the same collective spirit as we have in response to the health emergency – is one that we cannot afford to miss as an opportunity to put our environment at the heart of our future. While tackling the Covid-19 pandemic may be the greatest immediate threat to us – and quite rightly the priority for us all right now – the climate emergency has not gone away.

Indeed, our recovery from coronavirus gives us the opportunity to sharpen our focus on environmental issues and reinforce the fact that investing in climate action can create jobs, spur innovation, support economic diversification, cut pollution, improve our health and wellbeing. Ultimately making the country more resilient.

It’s important that we learn from the lessons of the past in this respect. After the financial crash of 2008, governments worldwide invested to do all they could to ensure a rapid bounce-back.

However, we cannot allow economics to drive our recovery above all other considerations this time. We cannot afford to solve one crisis – Covid-19 disease – by exacerbating another, climate change.

Although the COP26 summit in Glasgow has understandably been postponed, Scotland can still prove itself a world leader on this front by embracing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework for a fair, green recovery plan post Covid-19, providing critical steps towards achieving net-zero emissions by 2045 at the latest.

While we support the Scottish Government’s decision to delay the publication of its eagerly-awaited updated Climate Change Plan as it deals with the impact of Covid-19, we also welcome the indication from Holyrood that it would consult the Committee on Climate Change to look at how its update can contribute towards a green recovery for Scotland.

The fall in air pollution we have seen in Scotland’s major city centres because of the reduction in traffic in recent weeks – remarked upon by so many, along with the return of not recently seen wildlife in many parts of the world – should be a wake-up call and an inspiration to us all.

We have been clear that we believe the updated plan must include projects of scale to ensure that we can hit the deadline set for net-zero emissions.

It needs to set out actions aimed at educating people about the magnitude of the climate change mission and must spell out the ways in which the Scottish Government will take a lead on the policy changes needed to decarbonise key sectors.

Our team at Keep Scotland Beautiful has a clear focus on this, ensuring widespread public understanding of the steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprint and address the climate emergency.

One example is our programme of carbon literacy training for organisations, schools, and individuals, which helps people to develop an understanding of the carbon impacts of their lives and work, and the ability to make informed choices about the lower carbon options available. Our experience in hosting the Big Climate Conversation proved that the more people who know about climate change, the more likely they are to feel empowered to address it, rather than simply feeling worried or frustrated.

That’s why we support a just and fair transition to ensure no-one is left behind as we move towards a greener Scotland. We are ready to play our part in this transition by helping people increase their carbon literacy and understand the lower carbon choices available.

This global health pandemic we find ourselves living through has taught us that, by acting as one, we can save lives.

The same is true for our planet. Politicians and the public must embrace real action to tackle climate change now, the clock is ticking.

First published in the Scotsman on 15 May 2020.

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