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European Central Bank issues consultation on guidance for banks on managing and disclosing climate risks

European Central Bank issues consultation on guidance for banks on managing and disclosing climate risks

By Robin Hamaker-Taylor

On 20 May 2020, the European Central Bank (ECB) published a draft guide setting out its expectations for banks on managing and disclosing climate-related and environmental risks under the current prudential framework. The ECB wants banks to account for these risks given that they drive existing prudential risk categories and can substantially impact the real economy and banks.

The ECB issued this new guidance to clarify how ECB Banking Supervision is expecting banks to consider these risks in their in their governance and risk management frameworks and when formulating and implementing their business strategy, according to the ECB press release. Apart from setting out expectations around climate risk management, the guide also outlines expectations on enhancing banks’ climate-related and environmental disclosures. The ECB is pursuing transparency, with increased disclosures as a main route for this.

In issuing this guide, the ECB is moving in step with other central banks around the world. The guide was developed in close cooperation with European national authorities and aims to ensure high supervisory standards are applied consistently across the euro area. The ECB’s guidance, for example, echoes the Bank of England’s 2019 BoE Supervisory Statement (SS) on banks’ and insurers’ climate risks – read more about the BoE SS here. Importantly, the ECB’s guide is designed to fit within the boundaries of applicable European Union and national law. It aims to foster banks’ preparedness for managing climate-related and environmental risks under current prudential rules, in accordance with the European Commission’s Action Plan on financing sustainable growth and the European Banking Authority’s Action plan on sustainable finance. Click here to read our recent summary of the current status of the Commission’s Action Plan.

The ECB is now seeking feedback on their draft guide, with the consultation running until end of 25 September 2020. The guide itself and a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) are available on the ECB’s Banking Supervision website. Following the end of the public consultation, the ECB will publish the comments received together with a feedback statement.

Cover photo by Martin Krchnacek on Unsplash.
Direct virus lessons we can learn as we go

Direct virus lessons we can learn as we go

By Alex Kirby

What history knows as the 1918 ‘flu pandemic infected about a quarter of the world’s population at the time – around 500 million people – and left virus lessons for this generation, whether or not it’s learned them.

Thankfully, the 2020 coronavirus outbreak shows no sign yet of matching last century’s virulence. There are growing calls, though, for the world not just to get back to normal, but to turn this global horror into an opportunity to rebuild by finding a better normal to reclaim.

In late 2018 the Rapid Transition Alliance was launched with the intention of building a community to learn from moments of sudden change and to apply those lessons to the climate emergency.

Changes in the biosphere are happening faster than changes in human behaviour, so the question the Alliance asks is this: how do we match the speed and scale of social and economic change with the science – and what it is telling us to do?

It is now working with two other British organisations, the original Green New Deal group and Compass, the campaign that builds support for new ideas among social movements, decision-makers and political parties.

In the first of several digital meetings the three have begun to sketch out a framework for how society can “learn as we go” from unprecedented events. They have identified five principles for a just recovery, which say in essence:

  • Health is the top priority, for all people, with no exceptions. That means resourcing health services everywhere and ensuring access for all.
  • Providing economic relief directly to the people is vital, particularly those marginalised in existing systems. Concentrate on people and workers and on short-term needs and long-term conditions.
  • Assistance directed at specific industries must be channelled to rescuing communities and workers, not shareholders or corporate executives, and never to corporations whose actions worsen the climate crisis.
  • The world needs to create resilience for future crises by creating millions of decent jobs that will help power a just transition for workers and communities to the zero-carbon future we need.
  • We must build solidarity and community across borders: do not empower authoritarians, do not use the crisis as an excuse to trample on human rights, civil liberties, and democracy.

An indication of the degree of international support for the five principles is available here.

Making things happen

The principles are already accepted by millions of people, but are no closer to reality, for all that. If they were, the climate crisis would be almost over. What can the three groups offer to make them happen?

The coordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance is Andrew Simms, author of a summary of what the discussions have agreed so far. He told the Climate News Network: “Nobody can guarantee that things will turn out any certain way.

“But once people have seen what it is possible for a nation to do, and how fast it can do it, it is much harder for those in power to justify inaction, or wrong action.

“The current pandemic crisis is wreaking havoc on families, communities and whole economies. But it is also changing our ideas about what really matters to people and also what it is possible to do as a nation when faced with a great challenge.

“There is a new appreciation of key workers who provide the goods and services that a society really relies on – like health services and those in the food supply chain – but who typically lack recognition or are poorly paid.

Good-bye to inertia

“One of the greatest enemies in overcoming the climate emergency has been the sheer inertia of business-as-usual. Now there is a great sense of people taking stock of what is truly important.

“Vitally, when there is a fundamental threat to society, we have seen that financial resources can be mobilised. Fundamental change cannot happen without there being a consensus that it is both desirable and possible.

“The last few weeks have made visible underlying cracks in society, but also our ability to fix them. Once people have seen that, they are unlikely to settle for less.”

This first meeting spent some time talking practicalities, including how to protect wages and income. One example was the call by a member of Parliament for the introduction of a basic income scheme. Globally, the pandemic has prompted the United Nations to call for a worldwide ceasefire.

Overall, the summary says, greater consensus is emerging on how our economy and way of life relies on public not private interests, from health services to community aid groups, and that both local and national government have a vital enabling role on the need to improve the resilience of the economy at a national and local level.

Broadband before wheels

A radical reappraisal of transport came days after the meeting from the president of the UK’s Automobile Association (AA), Edmund King, who predicted a major shift in behaviour after the pandemic.

“People travelling up and down motorways just to hold meetings is inefficient, expensive and not good for the environment”, he said. “I think the use of road and rail and indeed bus will be reduced after this crisis.”

The AA, seen for years as a stalwart member of the roads lobby, said government funds for new transport infrastructure, including roads, might be better spent on improving broadband access to support home working.

The meeting agreed that the UK economy lacks a supportive town centre retail banking infrastructure with the capacity to administer a support scheme.

The build-up to the 2007-2008 financial crisis saw the evacuation of local banking services from the high street, and now the pandemic was making clear that the withering of local financial infrastructure in the UK must be reversed.

Universal and more mutual banking services are needed to build more resilient local economies, the three groups agreed. More progressive business models like social enterprises, which have direct community links, and the co-operative movement may help to provide answers.

This article was originally posted on the Climate News Network.
Cover photo by G-R Mottez on Unsplash.
Are there fundamental characteristics of systemic risks?

Are there fundamental characteristics of systemic risks?

This is the fourth in a series of eight articles co-authored by Marc Gordon (@Marc4D_risk), UNDRR and Scott Williams (@Scott42195), building off the chapter on ‘Systemic Risk, the Sendai Framework and the 2030 Agenda’ included in the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2019. These articles explore the systemic nature of risk made visible by the COVID-19 global pandemic, what needs to change and how we can make the paradigm shift from managing disasters to managing risks. 

This is a deeper, more technical dive into important recent work predicated on the concepts discussed in the last article in this series (#3 of 8). They suggest that the shape of risk is similar in very different systems. The ‘homomorphism’ of systemic risks in different domains suggests that as attempts are made to understand the effects of endogenous triggers and critical transitions, there will be more patterns apparent in different domains. This will allow the development of a consistent understanding of the fundamental characteristics of systemic risk.

An apparently stable macro-configuration of a complex system – like the global aviation system – will break down, and will be re-shaped by amplifications of a series of micro-events (like restrictions of flights to and from just a small number of countries) until a new, stable macro-configuration emerges. To apprehend these critical aspects and to disseminate new approaches for decision makers at various scales (in a relatively simple-to-understand format), we need a more comprehensive understanding of the spatio-temporal dimensions of complex, systemic risks and the differentiated nature of ‘complicated’ and ‘complex’ systems.

To characterize systemic risks, which involves dealing with information gaps or ambiguity, it helps to capture the random patterns of possible disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic on maps of values describing the vulnerability of people, infrastructure, economies and activities. A resulting systemic risk model will then allow for a quantification of mutually dependent losses in space and time. This will allow for the use of stochastic risk management models. Stochastic systemic risk assessment tools recognize complexity and the inherent unpredictability and chaos in complex systems.

These models do not try to simplify things to make calculations easier. They represent how complex components – such as interactions and interdependencies between disease spread vectors, human behaviour, health system infrastructure and other economic activities – are distributed across systems. And even if the probability is low, they encompass extreme events. This is known as distributional heterogeneity and additivity of extreme events. The global COVID-19 pandemic is an example of a low probability, extreme event. Such systemic risk tools are thus difficult to establish. The approach differs from multi-hazard modelling which relies on “regularity assumptions”. These attempt to make reality less complex and disorderly to ease calculation.

Scenario analyses and stochastic simulations are in use in many applications in the financial sector, including in the insurance industry. Their purpose in the insurance sector is to identify and evaluate risks and to examine possible interconnections and amplifications among them. For example, in the area of natural hazards, they simulate earthquake strength and possible hurricane paths, they define impact scenarios and they analyse potential losses. The findings are then used for pricing, internal guidelines, public policy and management of a portfolio of insured assets.

To focus the attention of analysts and decision makers on the indicators that best capture the character of systemic risk, the impending phase transitions and regime changes of the underlying complex systems, we need new approaches to modelling and understanding of the nature of systemic risks.

If appropriately co-produced, systemic risk modelling will uncover the incentives driving policymaker resistance to going beyond conventional views of risk and those allowing salient early warnings from systemic risk indicators to be ignored or rejected.

The adoption of a multi-agent system in assessments subject to systemic risk is an emerging approach. But it is becoming more and more important, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This approach represents network effects and considers the random nature of human behaviour and (emotional) decision making. A multi-agent system is a loosely coupled network of software agents. These interact to solve problems beyond the individual capacities or knowledge of each problem solver. Certain agents may pose a deliberate threat such as delaying restrictions of movement of populations already experiencing the early stages of exponential cases of infection. People being unaware of the exponential effect of not practicing distancing may pose an unintentional threat. In such cases, systemic risk management requires other agents across all interconnected and interdependent subsystems to take countermeasures to maintain the integrity of the entire system. The application of multi-agent systems research is appropriate and appealing as a way of providing decision friendly scenarios and options to policy makers attempting to manage complex, systemic risk events such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

As is now understood in country after country, systemic risks might be easy to mitigate early. Yet failure (or even intentional ignorance) to appreciate the role of underlying drivers of systemic risk will allow small, manageable risks to grow into major whole-of-society problems. Failed interventions and missed opportunities will increase both economic and human losses. Developing and implementing multi-disciplinary and transcontextual approaches to identify and act on precursor signals and systems anomalies is critical to reduce or avoid discontinuities in critical interdependent complex systems.

To date, assessment and management methodologies for systemic risks are still in early gestation. They are not yet part of the current operations of twenty-first century risk management institutions. Nonetheless, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a growing sense of urgency for a paradigm shift. This is hitting every major twentieth century risk management institution, from governments to insurers. The limitations of the linear constructs of that era are now revealed, with the occurrence and prospect of massive failures across and between systems.

Now is the time to experiment, to explore and invest in developing new approaches, to try to understand the fundamental characteristics of systemic risks. These should be applied, assessed and finessed in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. This may then, by extension, be applied to the potential specificities limiting vulnerabilities of other complex, systemic risks, such as the climate and ecological crises.

Building off this discussion of the characteristics of systemic risk, the next article in this series (#5 of 8) explores the need to improve decision making capabilities, in particular during complex, cascading risk events such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also explore opportunities to renovate governance approaches to be able to better focus on the systemic nature of risk.

Cover photo by Chloe Evans on Unsplash
5 honest truths about climate change and COVID-19

5 honest truths about climate change and COVID-19

In recent weeks there has been a proliferation of articles that have drawn connections between the COVID-19 and climate change. Many have been hasty to declare the ramifications of COVID-19 on climate change, as well as what this means for our goals and targets to minimise its impacts. The truth is that nobody really knows how this will unravel. But we can choose, to some extent, how we react.

Here at Acclimatise we have been analysing the outbreak and discussing what COVID-19 means in the context of a changing climate. Our understanding of the similarities and differences between climate change and COVID-19 is evolving as we understand more about the impact of the virus on critical systems. However, through our discussions, we found that there are learnings, even now, that we can take from COVID-19 – some honest truths.

Here then, is a summary of our initial thoughts. There is no ‘going back to normal’ – but for the ‘new and evolving normal’ that we will create, there is great potential and hope.

1. COVID-19 demonstrates the challenges and implications of failing to address systemic risks. Large scale dynamic risks characterised by non-linear changes and elements of surprise are likely to dominate the 21st century. Like climate change, COVID-19 is a systemic risk that requires the simultaneous application of complex conceptual and analytical models capable of appraising multiple hazards and systems’ interdependencies in order to be fully understood. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has demonstrated the limits to our current risk management practices, which are centred on a hazard-by-hazard and fragmented appraisal of risk. And yet, as with the financial crisis in 2008 (another example of a systemic risk), COVID-19 exposes the need to develop new institutional structures, grounded in a networked understanding of complex system dynamics. We need to get better at managing systemic risk if we are to prevent further outbreaks and have a robust response to climate change.

2. Science does not give a one-word or one-number solution. Governments and businesses place great value on making science-based decisions. Yet, science can only tell us ‘what is happening’ not what we ‘should’ do – this remains a decision for our policy makers. As the science progresses, our understanding of the drivers and mechanisms of complex issues, such as climate change and COVID-19, improves, and science can provide a better understanding of the impacts that different courses of action are likely to take. Complex issues, such as climate change and COVID-19 have numerous levels of interdependency and non-linearity in their interactions. Such an array of interactions means that any hard-and-fast projection of the global condition in a few months’ time is impossible; not because the science can’t work it out, but because there are just so many possibilities. And yet, many are already pontificating about how the crisis will unfold and what the world may look like in five or six months as a result of COVID-19. The honest, uncomfortable truth, however, is that we simply don’t know how things will unfold. Trying to make projections by assigning hard values to the crisis generates an unfounded sense of confidence based on unsubstantiated forecasting.

3. Uncertainty about the future does not mean we do not know what to do. Despite clear warning signs, scientific reports and past near-miss experiences, COVID-19 has caught the world off guard. Governments were unprepared to respond to the outbreak and, in many instances, delayed critical preventive actions in fear of the negative impacts they would have on the economy. Like climate change, the initial impacts generated by COVID-19 in one side of the world hardly resonated with people located in other regions, illustrating the challenges people face when trying to grasp the dynamics of a complex problem. Whilst the future may be uncertain, we can take action now to prevent future pandemics moving in the same way, and we can introduce methods and mechanisms to system design to guard against impacts from ‘unknown unknowns’. Whilst that in itself may sound impossible, by building more resilient systems that can respond well to a variety of shocks and stressors – be they a global pandemic or a changing climate – we can build a future that is resilient in the face of uncertainty.

4. Building flexibility and adaptiveness is needed in all aspects of our society. From how countries are run to how we go from place to place in our daily lives, COVID-19 and climate change impacts are great reminders of the need to develop more elastic and responsive systems. The key lies in developing contextual understandings of the potential systems at risk, in order that we can rapidly recognise – and even anticipate – how changes will affect single or multiple parts of a system, and then being able to adjust accordingly. Therefore, rich systems intelligence is needed to develop such contextualised knowledge. This can be hard to do, especially when we talk about systems operating at multiple scales. But we can now draw on “collective intelligence”, driven by the combination of human and artificial intelligence, which can collect a great amount of data on multiple variables, map their interdependencies, and monitor and model change over time. Even in the absence of sophisticated methods, businesses and governments can easily build flexibility too. For businesses this may come, for example, in the form of a diversified portfolio of activities, suppliers and customers. Similarly, countries may seek to diversify their trading partners, stimulate growth in underdeveloped industries and build flexibility within its institutions.

5. Climate change is still the greatest threat to our planet, and any recovery plan to COVID-19 must include a response to climate change. Whilst COVID-19 impacts will eventually lessen, climate change places an increasing pressure on socio-ecological systems, and will continue to do so even more in the years to come. We should not lose sight of other challenges that lie ahead and acknowledge that, given the current situation, the transition curve to a low carbon economy may become steeper, exposing our communities to greater transition and physical climate risks. Actors engaged on climate action should regard the current experience with COVID-19 as a warning for our climate reality: we know that failure to invest in the infrastructure and systems needed to respond to change costs lives.

Cover photo by Tedward Quinn on Unsplash
Crop diversity improves biodiversity and builds climate resilience finds new research

Crop diversity improves biodiversity and builds climate resilience finds new research

By Will Bugler

The large, single-crop, farms that dominate today’s agriculture industry may be undermining the resilience of the food system, according to new research from Stanford University. The study found that farms that have diverse crops planted together are more resilient to climate change, provide better habitats for wildlife.

The findings, published in the journal Nature, highlight the importance of farms that grow multiple crops in a mixed setting instead of the more common practice of planting single-crop “monocultures.”

The study relies on a long-term analysis of how farming practices affect birds in Costa Rica. “Farms that are good for birds are also good for other species,” said Jeffrey Smith, a graduate student in the department of biology and a co-author on the paper. “We can use birds as natural guides to help us design better agricultural systems.”

The team found that diversified farms are more stable in the number of birds they support, provide a more secure habitat for those birds. “The tropics are expected to suffer even more intensely in terms of prolonged dry seasons, extreme heat and forest dieback under climate change,” said Gretchen Daily, director of the Stanford Natural Capital Project and the Center for Conservation Biology and a senior author on the paper. “But diversified farms offer refuge – they can buffer these harmful effects in ways similar to a natural forest ecosystem.”

As climate change increases the pressure on natural ecosystems, farms with diverse crops were found to support larger quantities of birds and other forms of wildlife. The study represents one of the first long-term studies on how agricultural practices impact biodiversity. The authors used almost two decades worth of field data to understand which birds live in natural tropical forests and in different types of farmland.

“It is only because we had these unusually extensive long-term data that we were able to detect the role of diversified farmlands in helping threatened species persist over multiple decades,” said Tadashi Fukami, an associate professor of biology in the School of Humanities and Sciences and a senior author on the paper.

Costa Rica offered the ideal laboratory for the research as it has a mix of intensively farmed monoculture systems, diversified multi-crop farms, and natural forests. The researchers were able to compare biodiversity levels across the various landscapes.Diversified farming methods does not mean turning away from profitability, the study’s authors note. “There are so many cash crops that thrive in diversified farms. Bananas and coffee are two great examples from Costa Rica – they’re planted together, and the taller banana plant shades the temperature-sensitive coffee bean,” they note “The two crops together provide more habitat opportunity than just one alone, and they also provide a diversified income stream for the farmer.”

Cover photo by Henry Be on Unsplash
Adaptation Fund study highlights best practices and lessons learned in gender mainstreaming across the adaptation field

Adaptation Fund study highlights best practices and lessons learned in gender mainstreaming across the adaptation field

A new study from the Adaptation Fund (AF) shares best practices and lessons in mainstreaming gender in climate change adaptation projects. The study, Accessing Progress: Integrating Gender in AF Projects and Programmes, focused on a review of successes and lessons learned in mainstreaming gender elements in five AF projects within distinct geographic regions: Ecuador, Mongolia, Morocco, Rwanda and Seychelles.

The research proves that integrating gender elements through each project stage has multiple benefits. Additionally, it highlights effective approaches, tools, challenges and learning opportunities for increasing and accelerating gender mainstreaming across the adaptation field. It is hoped that the information can help scale-up effective gender-responsive adaptation strategies – an action that is pivotal to ensuring project effectiveness and sustainability, while also promoting gender equality as a key goal.

Key findings include:

  • Ownership in communities and inclusive participation of women and other vulnerable groups is conducive to increasing sustainability of project efforts and achievements.
  • Systemic issues need to be closely addressed through participatory analysis and further advanced in project design and implementation to increase overall project benefits.
  • Raising awareness and building capacity among national and local stakeholders strengthened efforts to implement appropriate responses to threats of the targeted population.
  • Vocational training advanced economic prospects of youth, but could be better tied with the project initiative, and needs to ensure completion.

Read the full study here.

Cover photo by CCAFS East Africa on Flickr.
Acclimatise CTO Richenda Connell leads GARP webinar on physical climate risk

Acclimatise CTO Richenda Connell leads GARP webinar on physical climate risk

Acclimatise’s Chief Technical Officer, Richenda Connell, led a webinar for the Global Association of Risk Professionals (GARP), providing insights on the ways in which the physical risks of climate change generate financial risks and how technology can be deployed to help banks integrate climate risk into their decision-making.

The second part of GARP’s Climate Risk webcast series, the webinar aimed to provide its viewers with an understanding of:

  • The key transmission channels of physical to financial risk
  • Emerging frameworks for embedding the physical risks of climate change into existing risk management practices
  • How new technology can be utilized in assessing and combating physical risk

To register and access the recording for free, click here.

Acclimatise-led webinar series makes progress on mainstreaming climate change at CDIA

Acclimatise-led webinar series makes progress on mainstreaming climate change at CDIA

By Uma Pal and Jennifer Steeves

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Acclimatise has been working towards enabling a smooth transition from in-person meetings and workshops with clients to continuing conversations and strategically planning upcoming activities on web-based platforms. As part of Acclimatise’s engagement with the Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA), supported by the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and Expertise France, a series of calls and webinars were conducted in March and April to reach consensus on the way ahead for effectively mainstreaming climate change in CDIA’s processes for enabling climate resilient infrastructure development in secondary cities in Asia Pacific. 

Acclimatise conducted a capacity assessment workshop in February in Manila to better understand the CDIA team’s current capacity and future goals for mainstreaming climate change. The workshop culminated in the identification of potential entry points for integrating climate change within CDIA’s project development processes. This was to be followed by a second in-depth capacity building workshop in Manila in March, aimed at building technical knowledge of CDIA staff on climate change. In light of travel restrictions due to COVID-19, Acclimatise and CDIA have agreed upon a more flexible approach to achieving the assignment’s goals, prioritising activities which can be carried out through virtual meetings and desk-based review.

Over two weeks, through two webinars and numerous online exchanges, the team has prioritised activities, agreed timelines and assigned responsibilities to develop specific interventions to equip CDIA to better mainstream climate change in their daily work. These interventions relate to developing a robust approach to climate assessments, designing stakeholder engagement, communications, and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) activities to better reflect climate change, and enhancing existing CDIA templates. These tasks will be undertaken by working groups composed of Acclimatise and CDIA team members. Subsequent targeted working group calls are being planned to discuss each task in detail and develop a roadmap for development.

Both Acclimatise and CDIA continue to monitor the global situation and plan to organise trainings to enhance technical knowledge on climate change once travel restrictions are lifted. In the meantime, our teams will be making progress on the targeted interventions to mainstream climate change; see CDIA’s website for further detail on the first webinar’s content and the way ahead.

Cover photo by the Global Environment Facility on Flickr.
‘Doughnut economics’ theory adapted as a city-level planning approach

‘Doughnut economics’ theory adapted as a city-level planning approach

By Will Bugler

A new approach to urban planning and development has been launched today by the Doughnut Economics Action Lab, Circle Economy, C40 Cities and Biomimicry 3.8. The tool, aimed at urban planners and municipal decision makers has been piloted in Amsterdam. The Amsterdam City Doughnut, takes the global concept of the Doughnut and turns it into a tool for transformative action.

The ‘Doughnut economics’ framework for sustainable development, was developed by Oxford economist Dr Kate Raworth in the Oxfam paper ‘A Safe and Just Space for Humanity’ and featured in her best-selling book Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. Shaped like a doughnut – combining the concept of planetary boundaries with the complementary concept of social boundaries. The framework was proposed to regard the performance of an economy by the extent to which the needs of people are met without overshooting Earth’s ecological ceiling.

Since that time Dr Raworth and others have been working on how to ‘downscale the doughnut’. The Amsterdam City Doughnut represents  a holistic approach to doing just that. Amsterdam was chosen in part as the city has already placed the Doughnut at the heart of its long-term vision and policymaking, and is home to the Amsterdam Donut Coalition, a network of inspiring change-makers who are already putting the Doughnut into practice in their city.

Applied at the scale of a city the downscaled approach starts by asking: “How can our city be a home to thriving people in a thriving place, while respecting the wellbeing of all people and the health of the whole planet?”

To facilitate reflection on this question, the tool explores four interdependent topics, applied in this case to Amsterdam:

These questions translate to four ‘lenses’ of the City Doughnut, producing a new ‘portrait’ of the city from four interconnected perspectives. Drawing on the city’s current targets for the local lenses, as well as on the Sustainable Development Goals and the planetary boundaries for the global lenses, cities can compare desired outcomes for the city against its current performance [see the published tool for more].

Covid-19’s viral lessons for climate heating

Covid-19’s viral lessons for climate heating

By Kieran Cooke

There are some glimmers of hope discernible in the loss, confusion and misery that’s spreading worldwide, and one is that Covid-19’s viral lessons could help to equip us all to tackle the climate crisis that’s remorselessly building up.

A major side effect of the battle against the spread of the corona virus, for example, has been a significant reduction in the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gas being pumped into the atmosphere.

Power plants and factories in China and elsewhere have been shut down: the use of fossil fuels, particularly oil, has plummeted.

As a result of this reduced pollution, millions of people in cities and regions across the world are breathing fresher, cleaner air.

The epidemic has had other environmental consequences: residents of Venice in northern Italy say they have never seen such clear water in the city’s canals, mainly due to the dramatic drop in tourist numbers.

With several countries in lockdown, car and truck traffic no longer clogs up the roads and motorways.

“Covid 19 is a test of how the world copes with crisis. Climate change will present a much greater challenge”

Starved of passengers, many airlines have grounded planes. One of the big problems facing oil companies now is what to do with vast amounts of unsold jet fuel: some are resorting to storing it in tankers at sea.

Of course, whenever the virus is finally banished, industrial production could be ramped up again and fossil fuel emissions return to former levels.

But maybe, just maybe, some lessons are being learned as a result of the epidemic. One is obvious – that we are all in this together.

Covid-19, like climate change, knows no boundaries, respects no borders. It has become clear that nations cannot retreat to their bunkers and fight the virus alone. As with the battle against climate change, international action and cooperation are vital.

Another lesson is that science – painstaking analysis and the collection of data, both locally and at an international level – is essential if Covid-19 and other associated epidemics that might arise in the future are to be defeated.

Warnings ignored

Epidemiologists have constantly warned of the likelihood of the worldwide spread of a virus, saying it is not a case of if, but when. For the most part, they have been ignored.

In the same way, climate scientists have been warning for decades of the catastrophe threatened by global heating. Covid-19 shows how vital it is to listen to the science. Perhaps the epidemic will prompt a more urgent approach to climate change.

Covid-19 also reinforces the difficult-to-get-hold-of concept that nothing is normal any more. Suddenly the world has been turned into a very uncertain place. Behaviour which many of us have taken for granted, such as international travel, is, for now at least, no longer acceptable, or good for our health.

Scientists say climate change will mean even greater and more sustained adjustments to our lives. Rising seas will result in the displacement of millions of coastal dwellers. Floods and droughts will cause agricultural havoc and severe food shortages. People will have to adjust to a new – and constantly changing – reality.

Leadership and a clarity of policy – again, both at a national and international level – have been shown to be essential in fighting the coronavirus. After initial failings, China and South Korea moved to impose a strict and comprehensive regime to control the epidemic.

Specialists in those and several other countries have shared their experience and data with other nations.

‘Fantasy’ virus

Unfortunately, others − in particular Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil − have not acted in the same way, or shown a willingness to take strong, decisive action.

In the US, President Trump has in the past dismissed global warming as a hoax and withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, the virus was dismissed by the White House in similar terms.

Though Trump has since adjusted his message, valuable time has been lost. As the infection rate and death toll rise, the World Health Organisation is warning that the US is now in danger of becoming the world epicentre of Covid-19.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro – he refuses to believe in climate change − describes Covid-19 as a fantasy, suggesting it’s all a plot by China to weaken the country’s economy. Opposition to Bolsonaro’s lack of action on the pandemic is growing.

Covid 19 is a test of how the world – and its leaders – copes with crisis. Climate change, rapidly galloping down the tracks, will present a much greater challenge. 

This article was originally published on the Climate News Network.
Cover photo by Mark Ramsay on Climate Visuals.