Last month, the Guardian quoted Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, saying if we put post-pandemic bailout money in the wrong place “we will lock ourselves in a dirtier energy system, making it much more difficult to reach our climate targets” (‘Coronavirus profiteers’ condemned as polluters gain bailout billions, 17 April).
We beg to differ. It is game over for preventing dangerous climate change now that governments are planning the cheapest and quickest return to consumption. Riding on the wave of cheap oil and fossil-fuel bailouts is incompatible with keeping the average global temperature rise below 2C, let alone 1.5C.
Even if the world agreed to maintain all the pandemic-enforced restrictions on travel and consumption, the emissions saved would amount to almost nothing, compared with what’s needed to achieve the Paris agreement’s climate targets. Yet whether it’s to discourage mass fatalism, or prevent the very worst of what the future threatens, those of us with this knowledge still cling to “yes we can”. In this story, it is always five to midnight; it is always the last chance to prevent disaster. In contrast, collective action on climate can only grow out of complete honesty. It is time to acknowledge our collective failure to respond to climate change, identify its consequences and accept the massive personal, local, national and global adaptation that awaits us all.
Dr Wolfgang Knorr Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science, Lund University, Prof Eric Rignot University of California, Irvine, Prof Rik Leemans Wageningen University and Research, Prof Andy Morse School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool, Prof Dennis Baldocchi Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley, Prof Thomas Hickler Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, Prof Francis E Putz Department of Biology, University of Florida, Prof Maarten Krol Wageningen University, Dr Alberte Bondeau Institut Mediterraneen de Biodiversite et d’Ecologie, Aix-Marseille Universite, CNRS, Prof Wolfgang Cramer Institut Mediterraneen de Biodiversite et d’Ecologie, Aix-Marseille Universite, CNRS, Prof Paul Palmer University of Edinburgh, Dr James G Dyke Global Systems Institute, University of Exeter
o Oxford University’s call for a green stimulus for the economy and Polly Toynbee’s demand for a dramatically fairer reversal of the impact of “wealth on health” could both be addressed by a nationwide Green New Deal programme (Poverty kills people: after coronavirus we can no longer ignore it, 5 May).
This would allow a way out of the economic collapse caused by coronavirus, while rebuilding our social infrastructure and tackling the climate emergency. It can also provide new jobs and huge opportunities for businesses. At its heart must be a labour-intensive social infrastructure that rebuilds our austerity battered public services. The prioritisation of green infrastructure will require a shift of economic priorities towards more decentralised local economies that reduce carbon emissions and air pollution, minimise the throughput of raw materials, provide long-term food security and protect biodiversity.
This radically new approach will involve listening to climate experts, funding the transition needed through massive government borrowing and introducing policies to curb our “freedoms” to travel, eat and consume in ways that threaten the planet. It is a Green New Deal imperative to tackle both the social and climate crisis that must emerge as the exit strategy from coronavirus.
Convenor, UK Green New Deal Group
o It is not only whales that are enjoying the opportunity for improved “conversations” presented by the current drop in manmade noise levels (Silence is golden for whales as lockdown reduces ocean noise, 27 April). From insects to fish, nature is booming as human activity intrudes less during lockdown. In our gardens, birdsong is more noticeable without a constant soundtrack of traffic noise. When our activities increase post-lockdown, we should reflect on the joy these sounds have given us and consider more permanent changes to the way we share the planet with our wildlife, for the benefit of all.
Professor of behavioural ecology, University of Bristol