Why we need to keep talking about climate change


Indra Heerkens


At this moment, we are all adjusting to the new reality of life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like any other organisation, the IKEA Foundation’s top priority is to protect our staff while reducing the transmission of the virus.

We need every co-worker to look after themselves, their family and their loved ones, and we hope they can stay safe during this challenging time. Without our co-workers being in good health, we cannot carry out our work to help families create a better everyday life and protect the planet.

Our second priority is our partners, many of whom are being forced to rethink their operations and juggle priorities in these difficult circumstances. It is very important that we continue to support our partners in mobilising people to take climate action. That’s because climate change is not going to go away, even though the human activities that are causing it are ‘on pause’ for a while.

Reduced emissions
We can already see how economic slowdown resulting from COVID-19 is greatly reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The latest scientific reports show that CO2 emissions and air pollution are falling rapidly, with the global spread of the virus.

As COVID-19 impacts work and travel, levels of air pollutants and warming gases over some cities and regions are showing significant drops, sometimes by as much as 50 per cent. There had been a 25 per cent drop in energy use and emissions in China over a two-week period. Experts believe this is likely to lead to an overall fall of about one per cent in China’s carbon emissions this year.

These declines may provide long-term lessons about how we can reduce greenhouse gases, but they are likely to be short-lived unless we learn those lessons. As soon as the pandemic is under control, if carbonised ‘business as usual’ resumes, emissions and pollution will rise rapidly again.

Climate-friendly planning
So now it’s time for governments and business to act with the climate in mind, as they prepare to stimulate the economy once the pandemic eases. This means not throwing themselves blindly into promoting economic growth regardless of the impact on the environment. We believe that efforts to encourage economic growth should contribute to addressing climate change, not push us in the opposite direction.

In these times of isolation and lock-down, there is time to reflect on how we could transform our fossil fuel-based societies into responsible, climate-aware communities powered by renewable energy.

Both climate change and COVID-19 reflect the profound and unprecedented extent to which humans are altering the global environment. People are already making connections between issues, realising that it isn’t just about COVID-19, but the nature of crisis and future crises. The rapid and dramatic response to the COVID-19 epidemic shows that the world can take decisive action to address climate change if everyone wakes up to how urgent it really is.

Connect and mobilise
So let us use these difficult times wisely. Now is the chance to connect and mobilise by sharing stories from our partners about their resilience and how they are adapting to the situation. We want to keep up the momentum for climate action and make sure climate change remains part of the conversation in 2020.

These unparalleled challenges require unprecedented collaboration. The work goes on. We are confident that by working closely together, we can navigate these conditions, continue to deliver critical impact and make change happen.

Indra Heerkens is the Strategic Communicator for Climate Action at the IKEA Foundation.

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