As we’re entering the most acute stage of the coronavirus crisis, it’s natural that all thoughts and efforts are concentrated on the ways and means to save lives and rescue the economy from effects of the pandemic. But we shouldn’t forget about the longer term threat to our lifestyle. Just like a number of political leaders are still climato- sceptics, many (often the same populist kind, it has to be said) have also been pandemic-sceptics until the virus started to infect their people in factories, homes and streets. In a way, the coronavirus crisis may have done us a service by raising awareness of these existential threats. We should no longer take the “business as usual” scenario for granted: unprecedented events and crises can and do occur that can compromise mankind’s perspectives.
Whereas the pandemic is an acute but (hopefully) short term event, one that can be addressed within a year or so through the elaboration of a vaccine, the climate crisis moves more slowly. At the same time, this perceived medium to long term horizon has so far delayed the kind of immediate, “knee-jerk” decisive action that was almost universally adopted for the pandemic. We have yet to realize the worldwide impact from climate change may be far greater – and more irreversible- than what we are living through today. Let’s just remember that many experts envision a positive effect of the current health crisis on overall mortality due to the decrease of fatalities linked to air pollution ( CO2 and NOX levels have decreased dramatically these last weeks in most developed & emerging countries), -not to mention the drop in road traffic casualties- more than compensating the coronavirus death toll!
So, what is to be done? A global opportunity should arise in the coming months, which shouldn’t be squandered. As we switch from crisis response mode into economic recovery , based on stimulus packages, one can expect Infrastructure spending will play a key role, as has been the case in previous economic crises . In China, huge plans for infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy are already being prepared by provincial and national authorities.
The temptation will be great to consolidate existing activity and employment by bankrolling quickly the most affected sectors like Mobility ( air transport infrastructure in particular) or Energy ( fossil fuels, especially oil ,doubly affected, from demand side with the global shutdown, and supply side with the current price war). But, although difficult politically, we should take the time to pause and reflect on the course of action we want to take. At the same time, we know fiscal challenges will be bigger than ever for most governments in view of the astronomical bill to foot for the crisis and subsequent shutdown of activity. This is where institutional investors have a key, indeed historical role to play to support ands steer the economy towards a more sustainable future
Public decision-makers, prodded by civil society and supported by institutional investors, must embed climate-change mitigation and resilience within these stimulus packages. Only this way will we ensure that we don’t bump from one economic crisis into another, climate-linked crisis.
Big crises, whether economic or war-induced, are often the opportunity for a country to start anew on fresh bases ,and build new political consensus that can prevail over vested interests, because they demonstrate that the current situation is no longer tenable . For the first time we are facing a universal crisis : let’s not waste the opportunity to emerge with a global adapted response to the greatest challenge of our time.