Both the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change have become dire due to a failure to act quickly, collaboratively and decisively. But if governments and leaders are strategic in their stimulus spending to recover the global economy from the pandemic, the climate crisis could also be set on a more accelerated path toward amelioration, says the 2020 Report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate.
"With the loss of life from the pandemic and from climate change measured in the hundreds of thousands, the potential economic costs measured in the trillions, and the broader consequences expected to continue for years to come, the measures taken to address both of these public health crises must be carefully examined and closely linked," says the report, which is a collaboration of more than 100 experts from 35 global institutions including the World Health Organization, World Bank, University College London, and Tsinghua University in Beijing.
With the coming few years critical in order to slow global warming, (despite the Paris Agreement, today, "global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions continue to rise steadily," according to the report), international governments should direct stimulus funding towards "green" initiatives. Otherwise, money spent to revitalize economies will hurt public health globally.
"Economic recovery packages that prioritize outdated forms of energy and transport that are fossil fuel intensive will have unintended side effects," like "adding to the 7 million people that die every year from air pollution," the report says.
"Instead, investments in health imperatives, such as renewable energy and clean air, active travel infrastructure and physical activity, and resilient and climate-smart health care, will ultimately be more effective than these outdated methods."
Climate change will also impact preparation for future pandemics — which will come. "Without considering the current and future impacts of climate change, efforts to prepare for future pandemics are likely to be undermined," the report says.
The call for better and more innovative governmental preparation for future pandemics and climate disasters has been similarly championed by titans of commerce.
"If we want to avoid a climate disaster, we need a technological transformation on a scale and at a speed we haven't yet seen," Bill Gates said in a September report from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund that invests in energy innovation and is backed by the likes of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos and Google billionaire Eric Schmidt. "That's going to take governments, researchers, public and private institutions working together and investing in the innovations we need to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions."
Government investment in science has lead to many of the life-altering innovations in history, Gates noted in the report.
"Government funding is especially important to ensure scientists have the space and the freedom they need to test out bold new ideas and keep working on the ones that have the most promise for the future," said Gates. "That kind of risk-tolerant commitment is how we developed lifesaving vaccines and disease treatments, made revolutionary breakthroughs like the information technology that led to the Internet, and what put people on the moon more than 50 years ago."