WEF: What COVID-19 can teach us about tackling climate change

WEF: What COVID-19 can teach us about tackling climate change

As countries worldwide have started easing lockdowns imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic, what key policy changes could get economies moving again, take advantage of what we've learned, and set us up for another big crisis - climate change?

Here are some ideas being developed and tested:

1. Install fibre-optic broadband and 5G

Many people now know it's possible to work from home and hold meetings virtually - but fast and reliable broadband and mobile phone services make that far easier.

With streets quieter during coronavirus lockdowns, now is the time to invest in installing more broadband cable, getting 5G systems working and laying the groundwork for a digital future, say officials from Milan's mayor to Chris Stark, chief executive of the UK's Committee on Climate Change.

2. Reserve more space for pedestrians and cyclists

Cities from London to New York, Barcelona and Milan aim to expand space allotted for cyclists and pedestrians, as more people head back to work, in a bid to avoid crowded public transport systems and packed sidewalks.

Switching more road space to non-motorised travel could help hold onto the cleaner air many cities have enjoyed during lockdowns and encourage more people to abandon petrol or diesel cars for healthier alternatives, officials say.

3. Raise fossil-fuel taxes

Oil prices have plunged as Saudi Arabia and Russia battle over which big producers should cut supply most to shore up prices. Low prices and a growing glut of stored oil risk delaying the shift to clean energy needed to meet climate goals.

Levying new carbon taxes on fossil fuels - and removing subsidies for oil, gas and coal - could provide much-needed income for cash-strapped cities, states and countries as coronavirus shutdowns slash other revenues, including sales tax.

"It's quite a good time to use a tax on fossil fuels," noted Britain's Stark.

4. Install electric-vehicle charging networks

A switch to electric vehicles is already underway, but easy access to charging stations is needed to make it happen faster. Now is the time to invest in getting that network in place, say officials including the UK's Stark.

In the United States, investing in long-range transmission lines, to connect more wind and solar farms to the grid systems of adjoining states, also could help ensure the power to charge new electric cars and trucks is green, said Dan Lashof of the Washington-based World Resources Institute.

5. Expand cleaner public transport

As governments mull where to spend economic stimulus funding, using low-interest borrowing to buy electric buses or make public transport more effective and efficient could be a good way to get people out of cars - and maintain at least some of the air-quality improvements seen during virus lockdowns.

"There's a massive opportunity that we must take to rebuild the economy in a way that's truly sustainable," said David Miller, director of international diplomacy for the C40 network of cities pushing for climate action.

To read the full article from the World Economic Forum on the lessons from COVID-19 for tackling climate change, see here.