How the Coronavirus Pandemic can Help the World Fight Climate Change


The Coronavirus pandemic has taken the world by storm and has left economies worldwide reeling. Since the virus first appeared in China’s Hubei Province in late 2019, it has infected over 2 000 000 people and killed more than 126 000 worldwide. Scientist have long warned that this might happen and the response to the outbreak might just hold some key lessons for those urging climate action.

Climate change is a product of human activity and in particular industrial production. To ensure the continuous growth of economies, humans are continuously producing and in the process harvesting the earth’s natural resources – water, fuels, timber, fossil, land etc. – by inserting them into this gigantic industrial cycle which delivers various consumables like clothing, cars, furniture, phones and processed foods. With the all of the production, comes a lot of waste. This entire industrial cycle depletes the natural ability of the earth to balance itself and disrupts the eco-systems. All the output of this waste has resulted in drastic changes in the climate of our planet.

The pandemic and the slower-moving dangers of climate change parallel each other in some important ways. Both have their roots in the world’s current economic model  - the pursuit of never-ending growth at the expense of the planet and the environment on which our survival as a human race depends. Both these two emergencies are deadly and disruptive.

Suggestive Similarities between COVID-19 and the Climate Crisis:

Many governments around the world see the pandemic and the climate crisis as completely unconnected and as a result have responded differently to them. The suggestive similarities however are hard to miss. The COVID-19 crisis and the climate challenge are both problems of exponential growth against a limited capacity to cope, says Elizabeth Sawin, co-director of Climate Interactive, a think tank. With the virus, the danger lies in the number of infected people who will overwhelm the healthcare facilities and cause the healthcare system to collapse, whilst with climate change, it is that emissions growth that will overwhelm our ability to manage the dire consequences such as droughts, wildfires, floods and other extreme events. Each crisis reflects a global catastrophe that will require a global coordination where economic consideration become of secondary importance.

These similarities seem to beg the same question: In the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, are we going to see a much more urgent response from world leaders and societies to climate change, especially in light of the potential scale of devastation and disruption caused by climate change? It is not unimaginable that the COVID-19 pandemic could help us understand climate change differently.

The virus has shown that if you wait until you can see the impact, it is already too late to stop it. Climate change is no different.

A Global Challenge Requires a Global Effort

Emissions from every corner of the world build up in the atmosphere independently of where they are released. As a result of this, the reduction in air pollution will only be effective if all countries are on the same trajectory towards net-zero emissions by 2050.

The Coronavirus Pandemic has highlighted the fact that although it is a global challenge, much like the climate crisis, it will also require each and every individual to change their behaviour. In recent weeks we have seen just how quickly people can in fact change their behaviour if faced with the dire facts and consequences of a situation. This temporary shift in gears could culminate into a long-term shift of old behaviours and certain assumptions that could possibly lead to a drive for collective action and risk management.

The Coronavirus Holds Critical Lessons on How we Can Fight Climate Change

What exactly does the Coronavirus pandemic mean for climate change and will it in actual fact represent a positive or negative development? This question is rather vital if regard is had to the fact that the impact of adverse climate could be far greater and much worse than what we are currently experiencing with COVID-19.

1. Global Challenges Knows No Borders

As with the virus outbreak, no one is geographically exempt from climate change. The fact is, climate change knows no borders. Climate change is a global challenge and a big problem for every country, considering we live interdependently. It has catastrophic consequences such as the melting of the mass of polar ice, fires, droughts, destruction of economic resources and food chains, deaths of animal and plant species and the list goes on. There is no point in trying to fight the climate crisis if it is not done collectively.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that “Climate change carries no passport and knows no national borders. Countries must work toward the common interest, beyond narrow national interests”. Our efforts to restore, protect and to further improve the quality of life starts with the everyday choices we make for our families and ourselves. Protecting nature now will be the ultimate gift for future generations to come. We must do so together and we must act now.

2. We are Only as Strong as Our Weakest Link

All of us (and by us I mean the entire world) are vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis, though unequally. The exact same can be said for the climate crisis. In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are more vulnerable to the virus and the poor are more susceptible to its economic impact. This makes all of us more vulnerable too. Similarly with climate change, no one country can solve climate crisis alone and no country too small can sit on the side-lines either. Everyone must do their part.

Developing countries are most impacted by climate change whilst at the same time being the least able to afford its consequences. The vulnerability is due to a lot of factors that limit their ability to prevent and react to these impacts. The gains that have been made in these countries over the years are at great risk of being reversed as a result of climate change. In light of this, the (increasingly urgent) question facing the international community is whether non-affect countries can be held responsible for the damage that occur as a consequence of climate-related disasters?

We hope that for wealthy countries, solidarity with more vulnerable communities in the context of climate change will soon be a matter of obligation.

3. Prevention is Better than Cure

If you do things right and prepare for the worst you are seldom proven right because you have prevented bad things from happening. This is the story that has played out with climate denialism.

With climate change, the longer we wait, the more costly and difficult the solution becomes. Instead of funding disaster repair, we should invest in disaster avoidance. Early management and prevention can often be trying, to say the least, but it is really the only way to prevent certain issues from causing irreparable damage.

Dr Barbara Buchner, Global Managing Director at the Climate Policy Initiative said: “The problem with prevention is that it’s very hard to see its success. I’ve been working in the field of climate change for many years and it’s been the same issue: climate change is invisible. But now we’re seeing some of the implications.”

“A crisis like this brings to people's minds that maybe the risk we’ve been talking about with climate change is not so far-fetched”

Joaquim Vieira Ferreira Levy

4. Science Based Response

Lives can be saved by funding, accessing and understanding the best science available. The science on climate change has been crystal clear for years, but conveying the dangers of climate change to the public in a way in which they understand the gravity of the situation has fallen short which in turn leads to slow action and denial of facts. The fundamental questions is whether it will take a colossal climate disaster to force the type of global response we are seeing with the coronavirus pandemic and whether lessons will be learned from this current experience.

While some people have called for climate change to be just as drastic as the one currently being undertaken in response to the coronavirus outbreak, it is not realistic. A climate transition is needed that will take the vulnerable into account and ensure the protection of the poor. It should involve economic reforms that elevates the wellbeing of people over profit margins. We should demand that government be accountable and their funds should be allocated to decentralised renewable energy production.

Nature doesn’t need people, it is people that need Nature yet we are so intent on destroying it despite nature warning us time and time again. Nature is speaking. Why aren’t we listening?


What if we emerged from this pandemic with a fierce new commitment to take care of each other and the environment? What if we absorbed the lessons of the pandemic and start to fight for a world in which everyone can thrive? The COVID-19 pandemic is devastating, but failing to tackle climate change only compounds the tragedy. Instead, we must draw on the lessons of this pandemic to address the climate crisis.