Highways UK | Lessons from lockdown for tackling climate change
“Never let a good crisis go to waste”. This statement on the lessons of action in adversity, attributed to Winston Churchill, describing post-war attempts to create the United Nations as a force to rebuild the global community, is absolutely pertinent in a COVID-19 impacted Britain right now, says Sue Kershaw, Managing director of transportation at Costain.
At the start of 2020 there was great expectation that the November climate change summit in Glasgow (COP 26) would help turbo-charge global efforts to decarbonise and tackle climate change.
Then the coronavirus struck, and the summit was postponed – and the momentum to tackle the challenge looked like it would be lost.
Ironically, the COVID 19 economic shock has some upsides in environmental terms with estimates by International Energy Authority of an 8% reduction in carbon emissions this year. However, such short-term benefits come as the result of a massive economic shock and the result of enforced behaviour which is not sustainable.
But the enormous collective endeavour to tackle COVID 19 does at least show how a looming crisis like climate change can be addressed by urgent collaborative action if we set our minds to it – and changes we thought would take months and years can be done in days.
And to put this into perspective, this reduction of 8% would need to be replicated every year for the next decade to meet the predicted need for decarbonisation. If we are to lock-in environmental benefits, then green recovery must be an essential part of a wider economic ‘reset’. And we should see it as our role to be at the forefront of making this happen.
The COVID19 crisis has shown us how people’s behaviour can change in the face of a common challenge. “The climate challenge is like COVID in slow motion,” Professor Cameron Hepburn of Oxford University has argued, “One of my hopes from this experience – which has been terrible and tragic in many ways – is that we learn the lessons around the importance of government and business working together and also of international cooperation to tackle these challenges.”
But back to Churchill’s dictum about not wasting a good crisis.
The greening of the economy should be accelerated as part of any ‘reset to the economy’ and Net Zero objectives should be embedded in new infrastructure and transformational changes: think projects! It is crucial that a commitment to tackling climate change and achieving our net-zero target is at the centre of any recovery plan.
Daunting it may seem. But the extraordinary collaborative effort we have seen in the wake of the coronavirus threat shows what can be done if we set our collective minds to it. It’s time to be brave.
Sue Kershaw is Costain’s Transport Managing Director. She is speaking at Highways UK Online in a plenary panel session on the sector’s response to 2020 alongside Sean Gray, Director of Transportation at Mace; Lizi Stewart, UK Transportation Managing Director at Atkins; Tony Gates, Managing Director of Sir Robert McAlpine; and Martin Riley, Senior Vice President of Tarmac. UK.