Opinion Piece

There will be no vaccine against climate change

Author: Matthias Taft, CEO, BayWa r.e.

Climate change is now. The challenge is how can we avoid its most catastrophic effects. The window of opportunity? The next 10 years. In climate terms, the blink of an eye. As I write this article (from my home office), and reflect on how Covid-19 has changed our world I, like many, am acutely aware of the opportunity and the chorus of global calls – as coined by the UN – to ‘build back better’.

Covid-19 has brought hardship and misery to millions. Will the legacy of that human suffering and economic cost be a return to our old ways and carrying on like the party will never end? Make no mistake, this is a defining moment. Arguably, no other in history has been more important in deciding the fate of our planet.  

A green transition has, of course, been underway for some time. ‘Green’ is now widely recognised as not only being good for the health of our planet, but also the health of our economies. The two are, as should come as no surprise, inextricably linked. The challenge? The scale of the transition we need to make is significant, while the time we have left to make it in is short. And, I’m sorry to say, it was not happening anywhere near fast enough and we have wasted too much precious time already.

An opportunity….

We needed a catalyst. Something that could propel this green transition forward at the pace needed. And Covid-19 might just turn out to be it. A global threat that is showing us just how fragile so many of the things we have come to take for granted can be. A global threat that is also demonstrating that when we listen and act on what the science tells us, we have the capacity to all pull together and achieve incredible things when facing a common enemy. A global threat that is finally waking us up to the even bigger threat of climate change. 

World bodies and institutions recognise this, many governments, business leaders and economists recognise this. An IPSOS Mori global survey released on Earth Day this year showed that over 70 percent of people also recognise this, and feel climate change is just as serious as Coronavirus (Link).

The sums now being invested by governments to support economies around the world are staggering – trillions of dollars and euros. A global stimulus package that must become a green transition stimulus package. Supporting and propelling forward the green economic transition and societal changes that are needed to ensure the next 10 years are where we turn things around.  

But what does ‘build back better’ look like? And no, this is not where I spend the rest of this article extolling the virtues of renewable energy. Of course, this is my passion and transitioning to renewables is a critical part of the journey we are on. But the challenges are deep and multifaceted and so are the changes that are needed – they must encompass all aspects of society from energy to transport and agriculture to education. In choosing where and how to invest in order to advance the green agenda, all this and more will need to be considered.

Society will also need to change many of its habits. But here too, Covid-19 may have woken us up to the possibilities, and again created the opportunity to propel us faster along a path some were on already.  Remote working, virtual meetings and home office have become second nature for millions. Driven by necessity, but now may result in long-lasting changes. The associated environmental benefits seen from fewer cars on the road and fewer planes in the sky have been documented all over the world.  

But while many have recognised the opportunity that we now have to take something positive from something so destructive, there are those who would have us not learn those lessons and carry on as before. They would have us believe that we must choose between economic recovery or the environment.  They would have us prop up and support businesses that have shown no desire to change or evolve. And they would continue to perpetuate an out of date way of thinking which will ultimately cost us everything. 

Our last chance…

And so, I come back to where I started – this is a defining moment.  

The scientific evidence has been there for a long time and has only ever become stronger. Year-after-year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issues reports that leave no room for doubt. The latest again highlights the global environmental impacts that will result from shrinking ice sheets and rising sea temperatures (Link). But unlike Covid-19, we have not reacted with the same sense of urgency. 

What we, as governments, businesses and society, choose to do next will decide our direction of travel for the rest of this decade. In turn, it will determine if we avoid or rush headlong into a global climate catastrophe. And at that point, it won’t matter how we react, how we pull together or how many trillions of dollars we throw at the problem, it will all be far too late. There will be no vaccine for climate change.

The recovery from Covid-19, economically and emotionally, will not be quick and there will be much pain. But we have an obligation to learn from these experiences and honour that global suffering. We can build back better. The recovery of our economies and our planet can come hand-in-hand. Their complete and total interdependency is something the world had already started to wake up to, but too slowly.

Now, coming out of the biggest wake-up call we could have possibly had, we have our final chance to drive through a green transition. A pivotal point, which will be looked back upon by future generations as the moment when we finally took a united global stand against climate change.


Follow Matthias Taft on LinkedIn