The net zero transition is a race against time and regardless of the coronavirus crisis there is no time for delay
You don't get the time back.
The coronavirus pandemic offers multiple tiers of tragedy. The pain and sorrow of those who have lost their lives and their bereaved families. The trauma and fear of those working bravely on the frontline of the crisis. The shock and anxiety of those who are finding the lockdown conditions particularly threatening to their mental and physical health. The worry and insecurity of those already facing the economic fallout from the crisis.
But for those who have to date been insulated from the worst of the crisis there is still the minor tragedy of lives on forced hiatus, of time passing and plans deferred. Weddings have been postponed, holidays cancelled, lessons missed, newborns gone unvisited. When grandparents next see their grandchildren they will have grown and changed in the way children do. You don't get the time back. It's gone.
This loss of time is also felt at the economic level. The big fear now is for a U or even an L shaped recovery, where ground lost is simply not recovered. It was surely entirely right to push economies into lockdown, and there is plenty of encouraging historic evidence to suggest countries that combat pandemics most effectively then secure the most robust recoveries. But at the same time, the longer the lockdown persists the deeper the recession and the more tortuous the route to recovery becomes.
And - sorry about this - there is even worse news. Because the one thing the climate crisis does not afford us is time. As President Obama used to say, there is such a thing as being too late with climate change.
Many of the world's big technological, political, and cultural trends may all be pushing us along the path towards a net zero emission economy, but if they proceed too slowly - as is demonstrably the case currently - then we will see global temperatures spiral beyond 2C of warming.
McKinsey provided a sobering reminder of this fact late last week with a wide-ranging new report detailing how the development of a net zero emission economy by 2050 is possible, but it requires unprecedented transformations at a pace and scale never before witnessed. The primary conclusion from such reports is that for all the talk of 'silver linings' and 'global reawakenings' sparked by the coronavirus outbreak, it has happened at the worst possible time for efforts to avert a century-long climate crisis.
What to do? The only answer, as ever is to again redouble efforts to seize whatever opportunities are on offer and accelerate the net zero transition at every turn. To make the case for green stimulus packages, demonstrate the viability of net zero technologies, and continue to broaden the coalition in support of climate action. Above all, it means recognising that even in the face of unprecedented global crisis there is still no time for delay.
That is why in our own small way the team at BusinessGreen is continuing to work to advance the green economy, having announced in the last two weeks that we will proceed with both our Net Zero Festival and our tenth annual BusinessGreen Leaders Awards this autumn (there's still time to enter if you would like to do so).
As McKinsey reiterated, entire industries need to virtually halve their emissions by the end of the decade, others have to invent and deploy currently embryonic innovations and business models, and all the while a global negative emissions sector has to materialise. No business committed to delivering a net zero target can afford to lose a year, regardless of how daunting the economic headwinds. You don't get the time back.
A version of this article originally appeared in the BusinessGreen Overnight Briefing email, which is available to all BusinessGreen subscribers.
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