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https://defradesa.blog.gov.uk/2020/10/05/sustainability-and-covid-19-preliminary-research/

Sustainability and COVID-19 (preliminary research)

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The COVID-19 pandemic is a humanitarian crisis. Efforts to support those directly impacted and contain the virus are of utmost importance. No recession, no war, no previous epidemic has had such a profound impact in a few short months, over the past century as Covid-19.

Learning from our mistakes

The pandemic has stimulated a deep understanding of the ties that bind us on a local and global scale, such as the inter-connectedness of the links between climate change, viruses, and our lifestyles. Many leaders across the globe are now questioning whether their economy and business-as-usual models are based on sustainable principles. The shifts towards sustainable business values and fundamentals, confirm that organisations and economies with more robust sustainability activities are handling COVID-19 much better. For example:

  • COVID-19 has caused a dramatic uptake of online communication tools and reduced our need to travel for work.
  • The COVID-19 crisis has crushed the demand for every energy source except renewables;
  • There is a shift to local retailers and an upsurge in-home cooking and growth of vegetable-box schemes and home gardening.
  • The lack of sustainability in the fashion sector shines a spotlight on domestic textile production and more circular principles within the industry.

It is interesting to see the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is very different from the action on climate change and other sustainability issues of our times. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body under the United Nations, warns that global warming will likely accelerate the emergence of new viruses. In this sense, COVID-19 must be seen as an accelerator for dealing with the many issues we all care so strongly about.

Planning a green recovery

Multiple research indicates we are now living through an unmatched drop in carbon output due to COVID-19. During this Covid-19 period, CO2 went down by around one billion tonnes (the same as driving 216,043,568 passengers for one year). Globally, Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG) might fall by 8% or 2.6 GtCO2 in 2020 (IEA, 2020a). By comparison, annual CO2 emissions fell by an average of 4% during the Second World War (1939– 45), 3% during the 1991–92 recession (Boden et al., 2017).

While this is excellent news, the United Nations estimates that global GHG emissions must fall by 7.6% every year from 2020 to 2030 to keep temperature increases to less than 1.5°C. After the 2008 financial crash, rebuilding the economy resulted in global CO2 emissions surging by 6% year-on-year. As we respond to the far more significant impact of COVID-19, we could follow a similar growth-at-all-cost model. Meaning despite the drop, we will see a sharp rise in local and global carbon emissions unless we all play our part.

As a society and business, we need to re-evaluate what truly matters. We see sustainability and sustainable business as a tool to support organisations as they bounce back, and a tool to help economies and companies save money and reduce carbon footprint while protecting the environment and society.

Please contact sustainableict@defra.gov.uk to discuss this paper.

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