COVID-19 was not just a predictable crisis — it was predicted. Despite such warnings, many countries have failed to prepare for and, initially, to manage the COVID-19 crisis. That said, the pandemic has shown us how humanity’s collection ingenuity can pull us through. What is most concerning about COVID-19 is not the virus itself, but rather that it may be a harbinger of things to come.
There are clear connections between COVID-19 and the climate crisis. For starters, climate change increases the likelihood of COVID-type pandemics. More importantly, it vastly increases the likelihood of cascading disasters. There is no reason to believe 2020 will not deliver similar shocks to societies now handicapped by the economic impacts of the pandemic, with stretched emergency management capabilities and depleted health systems. Over longer timeframes, COVID-19 will have serious physical and mental health consequences through its effect on the global economy, on global and regional food systems, and on available resources for disaster response and social protection.
Similarly, climate change will generate events that escalate and proliferate, from multiple breadbasket failures to climate-induced conflicts and refugee crises. Without sufficient action, the long-term impacts of the climate crisis on health and the economy will play out year after year. For example, heat itself may cost global economies more than $2 trillion by 2030, with losses in some countries of 6% or more of GDP.
But there is a glimmer of hope. For if COVID-19 is a precautionary tale, it is also a crash course in the possible. So, while the pain of COVID-19 is devastating, it has created a policy window for climate action that six months ago would have been unimaginable. If we are to avoid a repeat of the dramatic human and economic situation we confront today, governments, business and society must collaborate to:
- Adopt science-based net-zero strategies.
- Better account for and address current and future health risks.
- Redesign cities for better lives.