• Paul Stuart-Smith

Out of the Covid-19 frying pan into the climate change fire?

Updated: May 30, 2020

It is not a stretch to see parallels between Covid-19 and climate change. Both are systemic risks for which society, business and the global economic system have been unprepared. But climate change has the potential to be far more deadly and economically destructive than Covid-19, not just because of the physical impacts of rising sea-levels, floods, droughts and other disasters, but because it can’t be readily reversed.

"It won't be possible to flatten the climate change curve" Credit:

Covid-19 has sent tremors through society and the economy, inflaming geo-political tensions, and dislocating globalisation. The death toll is substantial. Fear, uncertainty and social-isolation are un-nerving many. But the peak of the pandemic seems to have passed. After less than three months of staying at home the curve of new cases has flattened and the infection rate brought under control. Vaccines and anti-viral treatments are being tested. Tentatively, we are re-emerging from lockdown.

Reversing climate change will be much more difficult. In a business as usual scenario, the symptoms of global warming will intensify to a point where the world itself needs intensive care and drastic lockdown-like measures are needed to fight the disease. Except it won’t be possible to flatten the climate change curve. Global temperatures cannot be brought back down in a matter of weeks or months. Greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere may remain there for centuries or are dissolved in the oceans from where they can be re-released should the concentration in the air come back down.

This is, of course, why governments are adopting net-zero targets to prevent the curve from steepening in the first place, to keep global warming to well below 2°C (the goal of the Paris Agreement) and if possible to no more than 1.5°C, compared to 1.1°C today. And it is why there is a growing consensus that the economic recovery from Covid-19 must be green.

Covid-19 has reminded us that companies cannot wish away systemic risk. Instead they need to ‘measure it and then manage it’. For climate-related risks, the global initiative developed by the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) provides a framework for companies to do precisely this.

Independent consultancy Zero Carbon Finance and partner JSGlobal help companies with implementation of the TCFD recommendations. They are now working with leading energy research and consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie to offer a joint TCFD advisory service to clients. The new service is explained in Wood Mackenzie's white paper: "How to build resilience to climate change risk". Download the white paper here.