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Climate change is a slow emergency. We’ve known about the dire effects of global warming for decades but it’s mostly been a slower burn problem. The new year 2020 was going to be the year we got serious about climate. But as with all things, timing is everything.

Timing Is Everything For The Climate, Below2C

Risk expert and author Michele Wucker describes climate change as a gray rhino – “highly obvious, highly probable, but still neglected” (The Gray Rhino : How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore). For most people climate doesn’t demand immediate-now-today actions. The time horizon for action or response is weeks-months-years.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) is also a gray rhino but it has a much different time horizon. The need for action is immediate. Waiting a mere few weeks to react to this threat is the difference between containment as in China—reporting no new cases of COVID-19 on March 18—and Italy which was too slow to react, now reporting close to 500 deaths on the same day.

Timing is Everything

Why just two months ago at the beginning of the new year, global confidence was high. When confidence is high, “we have a “us-everywhere-forever” mindset writes Amy Harder in Axios. The world economy was stable, the stock market was chugging along and one could sense “an eagerness to take on big global challenges.” And there’s no bigger challenge than climate change.

It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now. — Debra Roberts, co-chair of an IPCC working group.

The 2020s are a decisive decade for humanity as nations start to ramp up their climate ambition to meet their 2030 Paris Agreement emissions-reduction targets. This is the decade we must stop climate change. To avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis, the world must slash carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2030, launching a new age of decarbonisation that will get us to net-zero emissions by 2050.

In once-in-a-lifetime moments when everything does seem to be happening at once, like what’s unfolding with the cascading coronavirus crisis, time is a ruthless prioritizer. — Amy Harder

COVID-19 has changed all that. The singular global priority is containment of the coronavirus. Countries are mobilizing at a pace unseen since World War II.  Our focus has instantly changed to “me-here-now” as the crisis takes over almost every aspect of our lives. Our time horizon has shifted to minutes-hours-days. Schools are closing, stocks have hit rock-bottom, sporting events are cancelled, consumers are panic-buying, people are working from home.

It’s time to batten down the hatches and wait for CODIV-19 to pass.

Climate Falls to the Bottom…For Now

With CODIV-19, climate action falls to the bottom, but only for the short term. Critical  meetings are being postponed or cancelled altogether to slow the spread of the virus. Also, the billions of dollars allocated to this global crisis will mean less funding available to support future climate initiatives. The defining crisis of our times is no longer climate. It’s the coronavirus.

But we must be ready for when climate is back. How humanity deals with the coronavirus crisis will be a dry run for the looming climate crisis.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.Creative Commons License

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  1. Awesome article Rolly, I would even see further to your last comment this virus experience being an excellent practice run. Less funding for the climate crisis, and shifting funding back to the cause of the climate crisis reads insane to me, again.

  2. Thank you for the positive feedback Les.

    Today I posted an article that deals with the new climate meta-narrative we need to use going forward. This year was going to be a big year for climate culminating with the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow in November. But during this crisis and even post-crisis there may not be any appetite to talk climate – hence the need for a new narrative.

  3. The author reminds us, that despite the CONVI-19 emergency, global warming is still with us and GHG reduction will also need our attention soon. Since a major reduction in GDP is likely to occur (some say around 5%), there will also be a reduction of GHG emission of at least that much per year in the first 2 years. We should seize this one-time (hopefully) opportunity and incorporate this GHG reduction into our inevitable march towards 2050.

    Simple algebra tells us that reaching zero GHG emission by 2050 (30 years hence) will require reduction of current GHG output by 1/30 = 0.0333 or 3.33 % annually. This applies to every GHG source or commercial or political subdivision as well as all of Canada, and indeed the whole world. This represents a substantial effort and will not happen unless enforced by way of inducements or penalties. Therefore I propose starting our GHG reduction program at the start of 2020 from the GHG output data at the end of reference year 2019, thus benefitting from the inevitable economic downturn and before an upswing and unless countered, a return to even higher emissions.

    If the government is not able to meet this time table, each company can embark on its own in meeting this 2050 zero GHG target by annually reducing its own GHG output by 3.33% of its 2019 year-end GHG output, and so on, year after year. Of course, the inducements and penalties will not be in place, but they will have to come eventually, and soon!


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