Navigating COVID-19 as a climate change professional

As with most climate change professionals, this is not just a job for me. I care deeply about planetary health for people and ecosystems, today and in the future. 

To work on such a ‘wicked problem’ is motivating and frustrating. Solutions seem within our grasp, but people are distracted by legitimate and sometimes frivolous activities and thoughts. 

Many in the profession have been wondering about COVID-19’s implications for climate change. What will the impact on emissions be? Should I celebrate the breathing space Mother Nature has been given? Is my work plan still relevant? How can the recovery be ‘green’? Will resilience to the COVID-19 shock build resilience to climate shocks? These and similar questions present a challenge to our collective efforts. 

The climate news and blogosphere are full of information to help us navigate these questions. Sadly, ‘fake news’ does not seem to be socially distancing itself, so readers need to maintain a discerning eye. Make sure you understand the source and stick with science. One COVID-19 silver lining is that society’s value of science is greater than ever. This should reinforce the message that urgent climate action is required. 

While science-based, economic and financial arguments are necessary, they are not sufficient on their own. Climate professionals need to connect emotionally with audiences. At the time of writing, COVID-19 is the second biggest killer in 2020 after pulmonary disease; we cannot be tone deaf to the shock it has brought, even though emissions have fallen and are annually in line with what is needed to stabilise the climate. COVID-19 is the way the climate should be stabilised, and is not enough to solve the challenge. While we should analyse and report on changes in emissions (and they are not going down for every sector), we need to be sensitive when it comes to why emissions are changing. 

I’ve found the IEMA Code of Practice useful. This guides professionals to: advocate and apply high ethical standards, acting with integrity, honesty and objectivity; ensure equality of opportunity and respect diversity; and uphold the reputation of the profession. We are ambassadors and we need to expand the solutions to those less interested or able. In many ways, this challenge just got harder. However, COVID-19 has shown the potential of urgent collective, global action. So many facets of modern life have been reimagined. Creativity is blooming, and acts of collective compassion abound – from impromptu balcony operas in Italy to the protection of great apes in Africa and applause for care workers everywhere. We are witnessing some of the best of humankind. 

This brings me to my last point: optimism. A healthy planet with a stable climate is the biggest opportunity in history to improve people’s lives. Solar power and LEDs can reach millions who have no reliable access to energy or light. Electrified transport can rid our streets of air pollution. Retrofitted buildings are more efficient, smart and comfortable. Nature can be woven into urban planning to reduce floods and heatwaves, and boost mental health. Everywhere we look, there 
is money to be made or saved from climate action. We need to sell that. 

Staying focused on the day job while navigating COVID-19 is no small task, but with science, standards, collective creative action and optimism, we can do it.  

Dan Hamza-Goodacre, FIEMA CEnv, COP26 Climate Champions Team member and steering group member for IEMA’s Climate Change Network


Picture Credit | Shutterstock
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