As most of us are now, I’m consumed by the subject of COVID-19 and its effects. It’s all around us, and it doesn’t seem to be going away.
But it will. Maybe at the end of this year, maybe in early 2021, we’ll prevail. I don’t expect a return to normal, but a return to something much closer to normal.
The thing is: “normal’ also includes the ongoing issues we faced BEFORE the pandemic – the largest of them all being climate change.
I stumbled upon this article from BBC, called “Has COVID-19 brought us closer to stopping climate change?” Interesting question, but how is it connected to project management?
The connection to project leadership here seemed weak at first, but then in blossomed into a bit of an obsession when I discovered so many connections between COVID-19 recovery, a green economy, and projects that it justified at least one blog post, and maybe a few.
One question posed in the article, for example is this one:
As the world has changed around us, how has that changed our perception of the environment and our behaviour towards it? Elise Amel, a professor in psychology at the University of St Thomas in St Paul and Minneapolis, points out that when people can see the impact they cause – when the invisible becomes visible – they behave differently. “When you are spending time at home, working there or because you’ve lost your job or been furloughed, you could see for the first time how much energy you are using or how much food you are throwing away, which may make you stop, think and change your behaviour,” says Amel.
See this paper on the topic from the American Psychological Association: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2013-34230-001
This is revealing in and of itself but think out it… we could (should!) apply this to our projects, couldn’t we? Show progress… show a vision… complete milestones… and you get buy in.
The biggest connection, however was something called Build Back Better, which I hadn’t heard of before this article. Build Back Better is a phrase that has existed for years* but has now been adopted as a mantra for a more focused and productive global recovery from COVID-19. Now we’re talking projects! Building! Better! Yes!
You can learn about the basic idea from this BBCNews article: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-52488134
Is there a push for Build Back Better, related to sustainability and climate change? Or should be just be focusing on ‘vanilla’ rebuilding – plain old getting back to where we were before the pandemic hit us?
Three in four people polled across 16 countries expect their government to make protection of the environment a priority when planning a recovery from the coronavirus pandemic
And this is what the Build Back Better movement is about (as applied to COVID-19).
It is probably best summarized on this webpage https://www.wemeanbusinesscoalition.org/build-back-better/
On this site, they say (and I agree):
Governments working on plans to rebuild their economies should pair recovery action with climate action to ensure that they, and the companies they support, emerge stronger than before. Clear and consistent government policies that drive the full decarbonization of every system of the economy are critical to accelerate progress towards the zero-carbon economies of the future.
By applying a climate and resilience lens to longer-term economic stimulus, governments can boost economic growth, create good jobs, reduce emissions, ensure clean air, and increase resilience to future shocks.
Longer-term stimulus measures to tackle the economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak should consider the wider impacts of spending decisions on the health and wellbeing of citizens.
We urge policymakers to:
Design policies and spending measures that create good jobs and drive economic recovery whilst reducing emissions and building resilience.
Place climate specific conditions on longer-term financial support for companies.
To boost economic growth, drive job creation and increase resilience to future shocks, governments should prioritize policy and spending to:
Accelerate the transition to an inclusive, just, resilient, zero-carbon economy. Implement policies and incentives and fund projects that accelerate the delivery of a just transition to economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
Advance the delivery of 100% clean power. Invest in deploying renewable energy, storage and grid reliability solutions, and enable corporate procurement of renewables.
Enable clean mobility. Increase funding for electric public transport and electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, and support fiscal incentives for electric vehicle purchases.
Deliver zero-carbon infrastructure and buildings. Launch home and building efficiency retrofit programs, and utilize public spending on infrastructure to drive demand for low-carbon materials such as steel and cement.
Support industry to transition to zero-emissions. Invest in R&D, demonstration and deployment of emerging zero-carbon technologies and use the power of public procurement to drive demand for zero-carbon materials.
Invest in nature-based climate solutions. Support farmers to invest in climate smart agriculture, to reduce emissions from land use and restore natural carbon sinks.
Avoid rollbacks of environmental protections and ensure foreign economic assistance is used to support zero-carbon, resilient recovery and development.
To ensure companies are reducing risk, building resilience and setting themselves up for long-term success in a zero-carbon future, those receiving long-term public financial assistance should be required to:
Integrate risk into company disclosures in line with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). Consistently screening for risk in company investments and strategy will ensure future investment decisions mitigate climate change, avoid stranded assets and prevent future risks.
Build science-based approaches to inform company strategy. Companies should set science-based targets consistent with limiting global average temperature increase to 1.5°C and reaching net-zero emissions by no later than 2050. Understanding and integrating science into decision making is the best way to protect against future shocks.
Invest in low-carbon solutions that create new jobs. Companies should prioritize investment in available solutions like the retrofitting of buildings, deployment of renewable energies or in achieving mass production and economies of scale in technologies that can decarbonize industry. This will support the creation of new jobs now while reducing the risk of climate change.
Here's what the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had to say about this a few weeks ago.
If you can’t watch the video, here is a summary:
I am therefore proposing six climate-related actions to shape the recovery and the work ahead.
First: as we spend huge amounts of money to recover from the coronavirus, we must deliver new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition.
Second: where taxpayers’ money is used to rescue businesses, it needs to be tied to achieving green jobs and sustainable growth.
Third: fiscal firepower must drive a shift from the grey to green economy, and make societies and people more resilient.
Fourth: public funds should be used to invest in the future, not the past, and flow to sustainable sectors and projects that help the environment and the climate.
Fossil fuel subsidies must end, and polluters must start paying for their pollution.
Fifth: climate risks and opportunities must be incorporated into the financial system as well as all aspects of public policy making and infrastructure.
Sixth: we need to work together as an international community.
These six principles constitute an important guide to recovering better together.
Note that in the video, there are many references to “projects”, “work”, and “jobs”. So it should catch your attention.
There is indeed a large movement to “build back better” from the pandemic in a way that confronts the climate crisis. Attitudes are changing. But however good our intentions as individuals, it will take determined moves by industry, national and local government to modify the environment so that we can all build on any attitude changes. Has the pandemic helped us make the changes needed to tackle the environmental crisis?
Your comments are appreciated. Let me know if I should do a follow-up post on this topic. I’m very tempted!
Here are some resources for you regarding the Build Back Better movement, and a graphic that summarizes the basic ideas:
BUILD BACK BETTER
Interview on the topic of Build Back Better
Video from University of Exeter
*The term build back better first caught international attention in 2006 during the recovery from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, where the UN Special Envoy Report offered Ten Key Propositions for Building Back Better:
- Governments, donors, and aid agencies must recognize that families and communities drive their own recovery.
- Recovery must promote fairness and equity.
- Governments must enhance preparedness for future disasters.
- Local governments must be empowered to manage recovery efforts, and donors must devote greater resources to strengthening government recovery institutions, especially at the local level.
- Good recovery planning and effective coordination depend on good information.
- The UN, World Bank, and other multilateral agencies must clarify their roles and relationships, especially in addressing the early stage of a recovery process.
- The expanding role of NGOs and the Red Cross/ Red Crescent Movement carries greater responsibilities for quality in recovery efforts.
- From the start of recovery operations, governments and aid agencies must create the conditions for entrepreneurs to flourish.
- Beneficiaries deserve the kind of agency partnerships that move beyond rivalry and unhealthy competition.
- Good recovery must leave communities safer by reducing risks and building resilience.