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Considering Climate Change After COVID-19

power plant
22 June 2021 | Updated 24 June 2021

Global carbon emissions have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, according to the International Energy Agency – business as usual is not an option.

Scientists stated that these emissions have already made the planet 1.2C warmer than during pre-industrial times, but when the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic on 11 March 2020 it prompted a sudden and unprecedented drop in human activity as lockdowns as factories shut down, traffic slowed, and planes were grounded.

By the end of the year, CO2 emissions had fallen by seven per cent according to the Global Carbon Project, only for them to surge again as the world’s major economies re-opened – emissions in December 2020 were two per cent higher than for the same month in 2019, which equates to 60 million tonnes extra, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Climate scientists now believe the temporary halt to normal life during successive lockdowns is not only not enough to stop Climate Change, but unsustainable.


“If current expectations for a global economic rebound this year are confirmed, and in the absence of major policy changes in the world’s largest economies, global emissions are likely to increase in 2021.”


– Fatih Birol
Executive Director, IEA


Exponential Action Required via Policy Pressure


Research from the University of Leeds shows a need to reduce emissions without the economic and social impacts of lockdowns and to find solutions that also promote health, welfare, and equity. Widespread climate ambition and action by individuals, institutions, and businesses are still vital, but they must be underpinned and supported by structural economic change.

Back in April, over 11 hours of discussion was hosted at the second Exponential Climate Action Summit by We Don’t Have Time, a social network for everyone who wants to be a part of the solution to the climate crisis. This featured leaders in the financial sector globally discussing the best courses of action for The Race to Zero. The entire session is still available to watch on YouTube.


“As always, finance will simply follow the new source of profits.”

– Tariq Fancy
former Chief Investment Officer for Sustainable Investing, BlackRock

“The central problem of climate change, is that the market doesn’t properly value our environment,” said Tariq Fancy, former Chief Investment Officer for Sustainable Investing at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager. “People can burn fossil fuels cheaply and not pay the social cost of that solution. Science tells us those costs will be paid very high, but those costs will be paid someday in the future by the youngest and poorest in our society, and disproportionately people of colour. The market will chase anything if it is legal and makes money.”

Selling fossil fuel shares as a way to fight climate change is ineffective, as they will just be bought up again. He also points out that targeting individual banks to address unethical investment would be like addressing COVID-19 by going door to door, asking individuals to wear a mask and not go to a busy bar.

He suggests that we need systemic, market-wide solutions enforced by law. This means legislated changes such as a carbon tax and policies involving fierce encouragement for public and private spending on new technologies, such as renewable power and carbon capture. “As always, finance will simply follow the new source of profits,” he said.

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said “the numbers show we are returning to carbon-intensive business-as-usual” and the carbon rebound was a “stark warning” to policymakers that more must be done to implement clean energy policies, adding:

“If current expectations for a global economic rebound this year are confirmed, and in the absence of major policy changes in the world’s largest economies, global emissions are likely to increase in 2021.”

But Birol found cause for optimism, pointing to China’s “ambitious carbon-neutrality target”, Europe’s Green Deal and sustainable recovery plans, and the Biden Administration placing climate at the “heart of its policymaking”.

Thankfully after several COVID-related setbacks, the Environment Bill, which provides a post-Brexit framework for environmental governance in England, is set to become law this autumn. Gareth Rondel, Sustainability Lead at CHAS, highlights for us what construction businesses need to know.


Putting the Cost Into Perspective


Piers Forster, a Professor of Physical Climate Change and Director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds, estimates that investing just 1.2 per cent of global GDP in economic recovery packages could mean the difference between keeping the global temperature rise below the recommended 1.5C, and a future where we face more severe impacts – and higher costs.

And a primary target for such investment will be the world’s cities, responsible for more than 70 per cent (source: UN) of global emissions and an environment where Digital Twin 3D modelling technology can make a real difference, according to Cityzenith CEO Michael Jansen:

“Our SmartWorldOS™ Digital Twin software platform works with software tools already used by architects, planners, owners and managers of urban buildings. It can harness vast quantities of data and use AI to optimise an existing ‘built asset’ or streamline the construction, cost and emissions of a new project, and manage them efficiently into the future.

“It's essential that strong climate protection is integrated into future investments in this way. The stakes may seem high now, but the potential rewards are far higher, while the cost of standing still on emissions and Climate Change will be devastating to mankind, habitats and the global economy.”

Picture: emissions rising above a power plant.

Article written by Bailey Sparkes | Published 22 June 2021


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