The age-old adage that prevention is better than cure is completely at odds with the issues we will face tomorrow. In fact, the adage leaves room for a deadlock which we can no longer afford, and which would make the cure useless.
This is the essence of a series of articles published by the Financial Times asking policymakers, pundits, leading commentators, and experts from the healthcare and environmental sector a forecast on the post Covid-19 future.
Christiana Figueres, former leader of the UN climate secretariat, highlights that Morgan Stanley reckons 16 weather and climate disasters in the US cost $309bn in 2017 alone. Global losses from natural disasters over the past decade amounted to $3tn. As Christina Figueres points out, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by half globally is the only way to avoid a collapse of the global economy and perhaps the extinction of the human specie, while the costs of inaction are staggering, $600tn by the end of the century. Decisions made over the next 12 months will shape the global economy for the next decade, just when we must halve our emissions, but postponing the environmental agenda will be deadly. “The Covid-19 pandemic has collided with the climate change emergency. We must integrate the solutions to both crises into a coherent response” writes Christiana Figueres.
There are solutions to diversify investments to energise the economy. Stéphane Hallegatte, the World Bank’s lead economist on climate change, points to restoration of degraded lands, sanitation and sustainable transport infrastructure. These investments can create millions of jobs in the short term, and cut both carbon and air pollution, improving public health.
Benjamin Zycher, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has a conflicting opinion. He argues that advocates of addressing climate change try to avoid this reality by arguing that substitutes for conventional energy are cost-competitive. Instead, they are not. “Why else have massive taxes, subsidies and guaranteed market shares been necessary to make it viable?”. The unreliability of wind and solar power, the un-concentrated energy content of air flows and sunlight, and the theoretical limits on the conversion of wind and sunlight into electric power are the reasons that greater market shares for renewables have led to higher power prices in Europe and the US. Moreover, Benjamin Zycher highlights that there is no plausible benefit/cost test that would justify environmental policies.
The two positions, despite being opposing, clearly show that the conversation around a post Covid-19 future cannot be discussed without taking into consideration climate change.
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