By Cyndee Miller
Climate change … heralded as the greatest and most pressing existential threat to humankind.
Or rather, it was … until COVID-19.
With the world at a virtual standstill, greenhouse gas emissions plummeted, air quality shot up and ecosystems thrived sans intervention. But we all know that these trends are temporary. When the world finally does rein in COVID-19—and it will—the need to control climate change will kick right back into high gear. Old habits die hard. Case in point: As Asian cities emerge from The Great Lockdown, the BBC reports traffic—and accompanying air pollution—are spiking.
At the same time, the world is facing an economic meltdown not seen in modern times. Against the backdrop of the raging coronavirus pandemic, the global economy is projected to shrink by 3.2 percent this year, according to a May report by the UN. Many leaders will be understandably tempted to put the battle against climate change on the back burner.
That would be a massive mistake. An economic recovery plan led by green projects lets us boldly attack both issues.
As government leaders scramble to revive economies decimated by the virus, research shows that climate-friendly policies could deliver a better result for both economies and the environment. On average, the 231 experts surveyed by a cohort of world-renowned economists saw a “green route” out of the crisis as highly economically effective. Citing evidence suggesting that green projects create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns per dollar spend and lead to increased long-term cost savings, authors called on leaders to “seize this generational opportunity.”
So are you ready to seize the opportunity and steer the world back from the point of no return? Many of you already are.
Teams from conservation group Forest Carbon, for example, are working to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels through the reforestation and restoration of Indonesia’s peaklands, which have been ravaged by fires and degraded by canal construction. The project centers around “assisted regeneration.” Rather than simply replanting trees, teams are laying the ecological groundwork for the peaklands to restore themselves.
“We want the area to return to its natural wild state rather than coming in and planting a monoculture of species,” says Devan Wardwell, Forest Carbon’s director of growth, on a recent episode of Projectified™. “That strategy is really based off of the idea that nature can do the work itself if we give it enough time and we create the proper starting conditions.”
Reforestation teams face plenty of risks. But the biggest might be human in nature: “If people aren’t invested, concerned and engaged in the wellbeing of their land, then the trees don’t stand a chance,” says Sebastian Africano, executive director, Trees, Water & People, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA, in a special climate change issue of PM Network®.
The fight against climate change isn’t just taking place in forests, of course. Most people live in cities, and that number is only going to grow, per UN projections. Urban areas were also some of the hardest hit by the coronavirus, forcing a fundamental rethink of how cities are designed, including that staple of city life: public transportation. Some urbanites might be wary of hopping on a packed train or bus, but everyone jumping into their cars is a traffic nightmare—and a huge setback in cutting carbon emissions. So urban planners in Italy, Greece, France and the U.K. are carving out huge swaths of their cities for areas dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists.
Even the country that brought us the famed autobahn is conjuring up an eco-friendly version: The Radbahn is a protected bike path below a portion of Berlin’s elevated metro line. To build buy-in, the team is letting residents go on a test ride.
“The idea is to experiment with the space and give our stakeholders an opportunity to participate in the project and express their views on the outcome,” Radbahn co-founder Perttu Ratilainen tells PM Network.
There’s no escaping discussion of COVID-19 right now—and that’s how it should be. But this needn't be a competition. With the right investments in the right projects led by the right people, we can conquer the coronavirus, rebuild our fragile economy and protect our planet—all at once. How’s that for an efficient project plan?
What are you seeing out there? Can projects simultaneously bring back the economy and protect the earth? Let me know in the comments.