“The corona crisis is like the climate crisis, but at an accelerated pace.” That is the conclusion that journalist Maarten Keulemans drew after talking to experts, among whom RECEIPT lead Bart van den Hurk. He drew lessons from the corona crisis that are crucial in terms of climate change in an article for De Volkskrant.

Lesson 1 – Reaction instead of preparation

Virologists have been issuing warnings for years, but when a pandemic comes knocking at our door, it catches us unprepared. The same is true for the climate crisis. It has been a growing threat for decades, but political agendas remained focused on shorter term issues. Both issues were seen as too vague and too far away.

The unfolding of the pandemic was very much palpable for citizens and policymakers. For the climate crisis, however, we fail to see the bigger picture. Climate disasters happen one-by-one, seemingly unrelated, like drops from a leaking ceiling. That’s how some people still argue that climate change is not a reality, while we are already experiencing it.

There is a crucial lesson that we are failing to learn from the pandemic. Authorities are putting in place tests, logistics and vaccines, but we are yet to see fundamental structural changes to prevent future pandemics. As we are dealing with floods and wildfires, ambitious climate policies are lagging behind to change our course.

Lesson 2 – A problem, a solution, a commitment

Bringing global carbon emissions down to zero by 2050 would only cost 10% of the recovery spending. Experts on both the climate and the corona crisis agree, the problem lies with leadership. For both crises, solutions are pointed out, but where the climate crisis and the pandemic diverge, is that commitment from leadership to take bold measures is lacking.

Lesson 3 – Butterfly effect

Even though leaders saw the coronavirus spreading and had time to prepare to some extent, the pandemic had unforeseen consequences. We are still suffering a shortage of computer chips as a result of closed factories. This has gotten climate scientists thinking about system-wide effects of changing global temperatures. “We have always framed the climate in rather linear terms: higher CO2 levels cause more heat, more sea level rise, more floods. But with the pandemic, we suddenly see whole cascades of cause-and-effect relationships unfolding would easily be overseen,” says RECEIPT lead Bart Van den Hurk, “We need a very strong climate adaptation agenda.”

Lesson 4 – Opposition is common

It’s a textbook classic: in the climate crisis and in the pandemic, there are fervent activists who want more measures and ‘sceptics’ who obstinately stand on the brakes. This is a sign that something is going on. Not everyone can or wants to go along as quickly, and that creates friction. Whether the discussion is about vaccine freedom or obligation, or about investing in nuclear energy, the debate can quickly become heated.

Read the full article in the Volkskrant (in Dutch), or have a look at our policy brief for more lessons from COVID-19 on the climate crisis.

Published on : 12 October 2021