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The pandemic shows us how to tackle the climate crisis

Researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) are describing how tough lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic could be used to tackle climate change and slow global warming.

“The corona crisis is a test case for global emergency prevention and management in general,” said study lead author Kira Vinke. “The pandemic has shown that when reaction time is kept to a minimum, a larger public health crisis can be averted. In fact, we should take this very lesson to heart and apply it to managing the climate emergency.”

The analysis was focused on four dimensions of risk management: diagnosis, prognosis, therapy, and rehabilitation. 

“The risks and causes of both the coronavirus and the climate crisis have to be scientifically assessed and quantified,” explained study co-author Johan Rockström.

“Countries like New Zealand and Germany were able to predict the outbreak’s possible effects and moreover had the ability of immediate action. In the same vein, the global community must integrate climate risks assessments into decision making and act accordingly.”

The researchers propose that insights from the pandemic can help to identify pathways for treating the causes and symptoms of climate change. 

“Both the corona and the climate crisis are the result of increasing human pressure on the planet,” said study co-author Sabine Gabrysch. “But the good news is that the pandemic has demonstrated that with a combination of government action and individual lifestyle changes, it is possible to prevent damages. If there is a will, there is a way.”

The researchers have created a climate corona contract that is designed to unite the younger and older generations on the principle of social justice. 

“Younger generations would agree to protect the elderly from COVID-19 by adhering to social distancing measures, while the older generations would push for measures to keep global warming in line with the Paris Agreement,” explained study co-author Hans Joachim Schellnhuber.

The researchers are cautiously optimistic. They hope that governments and societies around the world are willing to address climate change with the same effort that has been dedicated to addressing the coronavirus.

“Experience is a hard teacher, but the lessons from the corona crisis should be taken forward to protect our planet and preserve it for future generations,” wrote the study authors. “The outbreak has brought to light the potential to transform some of the foundations of our society. This can serve systemic change, not just in the short term.”

“In a time when ‘social distancing’ is the new norm, new ways of coming together are being ingenuously found. This renewed appreciation of our shared destiny may well help us to think in the long term about the very value of the only planet we have and our role therein.”

The study is published in the Science Advances.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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