A ferocious pandemic is sweeping the globe, threatening lives and livelihoods at an alarming rate. As infection and death rates continue to rise, resident movement is restricted, economic activity is curtailed, governments resort to extraordinary measures, and individuals and corporations scramble to adjust. In the blink of an eye, the coronavirus has upended the world’s operating assumptions. Now, all attention is focused on countering this new and extreme threat, and on blunting the force of the major recession that is likely to follow.
Amid this dislocation, it is easy to forget that just a few short months ago, the debate about climate change, the socioeconomic impacts it gives rise to, and the collective response it calls for were gaining momentum. Sustainability, indeed, was rising on the agenda of many public- and private-sector leaders—before the unsustainable, suddenly, became impossible to avoid.
Given the scope and magnitude of this sudden crisis, and the long shadow it will cast, can the world afford to pay attention to climate change and the broader sustainability agenda at this time? Our firm belief is that we simply cannot afford to do otherwise. Not only does climate action remain critical over the next decade, but investments in climate-resilient infrastructure and the transition to a lower-carbon future can drive significant near-term job creation while increasing economic and environmental resiliency. And with near-zero interest rates for the foreseeable future, there is no better time than the present for such investments.
To meet this need and to leverage this opportunity, we believe that leaders would benefit from considering three questions:
- What lessons can be learned from the current pandemic for climate change?
- What implications—positive or negative—could our pandemic responses hold for climate action?
- What steps could companies, governments, and individuals take to align our immediate pandemic response with the imperatives of sustainability?
What follows is our attempt at providing some initial answers to these questions, in the hope that they will inspire ideas and actions that help connect our immediate crisis response with priorities for recovery.