V-shaped, U-shaped, L-shaped. As governments and businesses grapple with easing lockdown measures, talk has turned to the letter of the alphabet most likely to resemble the economic recovery.
Alongside the public health response, the economic impact is rightly the greatest priority, but the type of recovery we pursue will have huge ramifications for the environment.
The global coronavirus pandemic has led to striking drops in pollution and emissions, with a recent report from the International Energy Agency predicting an unprecedented fall in CO2 emissions of 8 per cent in 2020 due to the coronavirus-induced slowdown. But make no mistake, this is nothing but an anomaly in the otherwise relentless climb of society’s carbon emissions.
History shows that major economic crises are always accompanied by a fall in CO2 emissions, with the global financial crisis the most recent example. As with most aspects of the Covid-19 crisis, the fall in pollution has been greater and more striking, with few examples more powerful than the indefinite grounding of the world's airlines. However, history also shows that on every occasion, carbon emissions went on to grow at an alarming rate as the economy recovered.
As we look to spur a quick, or “V-shaped”, recovery the most likely scenario is that carbon emissions similarly rebound and continue their climb. We need to pursue a recovery that bucks this trend – a recovery that sets us on the path to pushing carbon emissions towards an altogether more permanent decline. In terms of the trajectory for carbon emissions, an “L-shaped” rebound would be welcome.
This outcome necessarily rests on the response that governments and businesses take. There are critical decisions to be made on investment, jobs and infrastructure for the next generation. If government recovery and investment plans do not focus on the health of our planet, with an emphasis on renewable energy and the technologies of the future, then we will have failed.
Businesses too must play their part. The end of 2019 saw a flurry of corporate announcements about “net zero” targets and moving towards becoming “carbon neutral” as businesses finally started to really grapple with the consequences of the climate emergency. Not only is there a moral duty to continue with these initiatives but there is also a fiduciary one, with the long-term risks far outweighing the short-term costs.
The responsibility does not stop with governments and businesses; it’s about how society as a whole responds. We should all think about the steps we can take as the lockdown eases to live more sustainable lives. Whether it’s continuing to walk or cycle as public transport opens up, repairing rather than throwing away, or doing more to understand our carbon footprint.
Coronavirus has proven our ability to change our behaviours and work together to protect one another. Let us extend this care and energy to the future health and prosperity of our planet by putting carbon emissions into structural decline for good. So, as we hear more about the shape and urgency of our economic recovery, don’t forget that this is also about a recovery in carbon emissions. We need a V-shaped economic recovery, but we can’t afford a V-shaped recovery for carbon emissions.
This article was originally published by the Independent