The Decade That Matters

2020, Covid-19, and beyond

Contents

    When we focus on 2020, we again see a shifting tide in the way the world discusses the environment. The data reveals a year defined not only by a global pandemic, but also by an ever-shortening timeframe in which to make a difference when it comes to the planet’s future.

    And within those changes, represented here within our collective digital vocabulary, we can start to see how our methods of adapting to one global threat can teach us a lot about how to mitigate another.

    The rise of a crisis


    Before we look at the impact of Covid-19 on the climate conversation landscape, we need to first examine the non-Coronavirus-related discussions happening this year. And it is here that we see a noticeable change in global lexicon start to take shape. 

    Just as ‘Global Warming’ was superseded by the term ‘Climate Change’ over the past decade, in 2019/2020 we notice the beginnings of the latter being replaced itself – this time with the more urgent ‘Climate Crisis’. 

    In 2020, ‘Climate Crisis’ became the fastest growing phrase used online around the subjects of environment and renewable energy. 

    We will explore how the global pandemic has affected the overall volume of these discussions in the next section of this report. But before we do, it is worth noting the transition we have been seeing – both over the past decade, as well as over the past two years, during which climate discussions have reached a ten-year high. While mentions of both ‘Global Warming’ and ‘Climate Change’ declined from 2019 to 2020 (-53% and -31% respectively), mentions of both ‘Climate Crisis’ and #ClimateAction have risen (by 17% and 47% respectively). This suggests that – while use of the phrase ‘Climate Change’ continues to outstrip ‘Climate Crisis’ in terms of sheer volume – we were witnessing an emerging trend towards more ‘urgent’ language. 

    Conversation Volume 2010-2020

    Conversation Volume 2018-2020

    This emerging trend toward ‘Climate Crisis’ (and #ClimateAction) can be traced to two key moments in September 2019: Greta Thunberg filing complaints against Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey for allegedly failing to uphold their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (with respect to the environment), and the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit. 

    There has been a consistent volume of mentions for #ClimateAction since its peak in 2019,  use of the term ‘Climate Crisis’ has continued to grow; users and publishers across various channels have begun adopting it at a greater rate than the pre-established alternatives:

    • News coverage including the phrase has doubled in 2020 – up 116% YoY, compared with a 28% decline for ‘Global Warming’ and 9% drop overall for ‘Climate Change’.
    • More starkly, ‘Climate Crisis’ on social media has completely outgrown ‘Global Warming’ in terms of rate of change – up 17% YoY compared to a 57% decline for ‘Global Warming’ and 32% drop overall for ‘Climate Change’.
    • On blogging platforms, ‘Climate Crisis’ mentions represent a quarter of the volume of ‘Global Warming’, but mentions of the term itself are up 103% YoY, compared to a decline of 32% for ‘Global Warming’.

    As is to be expected, the sentiment around the term ‘Climate Crisis’ is overwhelmingly negative (45% to just 7% positive), with news moments and related mentions on social media focusing on a lack of action and a collective disappointment in world leaders, as well as dismay at global events like wildfires in Australia. 

    Emotive words and phrases around the term – including ‘mass extinction’, ‘urgency’, ‘act’ and ‘end’ – are defining the discourse. 

    A pandemic of change


    Whilst it is clear to see that the phraseology has changed to represent a planet in more urgent need of help, there is another, somewhat contradictory, defining trend to be seen in 2020: the environment taking a backseat. And that is due entirely to the threat posed by Covid-19.

    In the face of the pandemic, the volume of discussions around both the climate and renewable energy solutions has decreased. Looking at all online platforms as a whole, mention volumes of climate topics are down more than a million per month from a peak in January, falling 41% on Twitter and 24% across online news publications. 

    Where climate change was covered in the media during the initial months of the global pandemic (March – August 2020) we can see that the most popular stories, as judged by total online viewership of that publication, tended to sit at the intersection of climate change and the pandemic:

    e.g. “Biodiversity protection needed to prevent future pandemics”, which first appeared in The Philippine Star in late April 2020, before being syndicated by global news hubs including MSN; or “To prevent future pandemics no company should source from recently deforested land”, which was published by Reuters in early May.

    As a result, trending topics have shifted focus towards the pandemic, with the public concerned more pressingly with economic crises (including loss of jobs) than environmental ones.

    In September 2020, online global conversations around the global pandemic are 18.5 times greater than climate-change-related ones.

    Accordingly, the volume of Covid-related conversations dwarfs the volume of climate change ones from their peak in September 2019 – showing us a disparity in the way these crises are discussed.

    quote-marks

    I remain optimistic that a moment of 'creative destruction' is possible; and it will lead to an acceleration in the growth of renewable energy throughout the region.

    Daniel Gaefke, Director of Projects APAC, BayWa r.e.

    Viewpoint piece

    A catalyst for positive change

    Conversation around Covid-19 has naturally dominated the world’s attention over the past year. And it is fair to say that the macroeconomic impacts of the pandemic have had some effect on businesses’ energy needs and plans across Asia, though that picture differs on a country-by-country basis. 
     
    We can see for instance that in Indonesia and the Philippines, countries which have been hit hard by the pandemic, an understandable focus on immediate relief measures for the population have taken precedence above all other considerations. In these areas, the focus on climate change, and renewable energy in particular, has been pushed down the list of priorities.
     
    But we also see positive announcements within the region. Clear commitments to accelerate the energy transition have been made in South Korea and Japan, with both nations announcing new 'green deals' and associated spending plans. We can also see that China is continuing, as planned, on its path to add new renewable energy capacity. There’s no sign of a slowdown in Thailand when it comes to commercial and industrial (C&I) solar installations. Malaysia is progressing with the next Large Scale Solar (LSS) bidding round, and there are further positive developments in the C&I market segment there too.
     
    BayWa r.e. has responded to the pandemic context accordingly by scaling up activity in some nations (e.g. South Korea, Vietnam) whilst scaling back activity in some others. As the economic consequences of the pandemic continue to evolve, we recognise the need to remain agile. 

    Of course, we will only know for sure what those consequences truly look like over the next couple of years, and we cannot predict how governments will adjust their policies in response. Some might, for instance, decide to focus on spending to keep existing industries alive, instead of pushing for an economic transition that drives forward renewable energy.
     
    And it’s for that reason that we all need to push the cause now, even more than before the crisis. Protectionism of the old status quo will mean we miss this opportunity to hit our global renewable energy targets in the time needed.
     
    I remain optimistic that a moment of 'creative destruction' is possible; and it will lead to an acceleration in the growth of renewable energy throughout the region. Certainly, the importance of the intensity in the conversation across social media in recognising this opportunity and helping to contribute to its realisation, should not be underestimated.
     
    Renewed energy in the renewable energy conversation will be a key ingredient in helping to drive forward the renewable transition at the speed needed.
     

    Daniel Gaefke 
    Director of Projects APAC  

    Covid-19 and the climate conversation


    Global threats are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and if the world is to respond positively to the challenge posed by the climate crisis then it can take inspiration from the immediacy and depth of response offered to Covid-19. How the world has adapted to meet that challenge offers hope that such a will can be applied to the climate crisis too.

    When we try to hone in on one of the most widespread changes Covid has had on day-to-day life in 2020, the one that jumps out is the rise in conversation around working from home. 

    With offices shutting down globally due to the virus, ‘Working from Home’-related conversations in 2020 were five times higher over the course of March, April and May, than they were in January and February, while searches for the term have jumped by several orders of magnitude. 

    Furthermore, analysis of emotions in the context of these conversations often shows joy winning out over others, while the sentiment around working from home is unusually close as a positive to negative ratio.

    When we reframe the pandemic within the context of the environment, the picture is mixed – some statistics are positive and others less so.

    Commuting remains down 50-70% on many routes, for instance, but PPE is already proving to be a source of pollution. And for every positive story around airways clear of planes, there are revelations of polluters being allowed extra leeway

    But it is not the aftereffects of direct or indirect change that provide us with hope here – it is rather in the readiness to affect and adapt to change that we may find inspiration.

    We have seen a world move from office to home working and whole social infrastructures change almost overnight, revealing a global system that can completely change when faced with insurmountable cause; and with almost unimaginable sums of money diverted to address the short-term impacts and longer-term recovery.

    quote-marks

    Whatever aspect of the renewable transition we look at, the pace of change is not fast enough if we are to end this decade on course to keep global temperature rises within 1.5 °C.  

    Mark Cooper, Global Head of Communications, BayWa r.e.

    Viewpoint piece

    A language of action and urgency needed to propel us forward

    History tells us the instrumental impact language has on action; how we talk about an issue so often becomes how we tackle it. That’s why I believe the step change we see in lexicon from climate ‘change’ to climate ‘crisis’ provides us not only with a telling reflection of the state our planet is in, but also of our collective intentions. And that’s to say nothing of the staggering increase in volume and intensity around the subject over the past ten years.

    But what happens when a global pandemic arrives on the scene? 

    Covid-19’s early days gave us anecdotal glimmers of one crisis directly affecting another – fewer planes in the sky, fewer cars on the road and wildlife thriving. We also saw other, more pragmatic, stances forming at the intersection of the two topics: articles centring on the increase in biodiversity protection that will be needed to prevent the occurrence of future pandemics.
     
    Ultimately, however, in the face of Covid-19 the volume of discussions around both the climate and renewable energy solutions has decreased. Instead, the conversation online has focused on more immediate concerns, with social media playing a significant role in bringing people together, sharing stories, and giving each other hope. Also, and understandably, a massive part of the conversation has focused on the devastating economic and socio-economic impact of the pandemic – a topic that has eclipsed all others.
     
    And it is on that topic where the future of the climate conversation, and averting catastrophic climate change, now stands – and, somewhat ironically, is where we find hope.

    A way forward

    While the sheer volume of conversations on the climate crisis may have decreased, it is in the ‘quality’ of the conversations that have been taking place where we find inspiration.

     

    ‘Green Deals’, ‘New Green Deals’ and, as first coined by the United Nations, a growing chorus to ‘build back better’ – a recognition that the only possible future is a green future, and that the trillions of euros and dollars being ploughed into economies must support a green recovery.
     
    We are starting to recognise the true fragility of the world we live in. And we are starting to see a clear choice emerge: we can look at Covid-19 as a more pressing matter than climate change, or we can see it as a catalyst to propel the green energy transition forward at the pace needed. 
     
    And it is pace that is key. Whatever aspect of the renewable transition we look at, the pace of change is not fast enough if we are to end this decade on course to keep global temperature rises within 1.5 °C.  
     
    In July 2020, Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency and one of the world’s foremost energy experts, put the world’s window in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe, at just six months.
     
    There is no doubt we are in the decade that matters, and that there is a growing impetus around our need to take the opportunity in front of us and drive the renewable transition forward. This sense of urgency and opportunity needs to be amplified a thousandfold by the global online conversation.  We are seeing the language of that conversation becoming increasingly action-focused, driving toward an emotional and economic global green recovery, and in that we can take heart. But we mustn’t let those conversations drop for a second.
     

    Mark Cooper
    Global Head of Communications, BayWa r.e.