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A new settlement: The COP26 stakes just got higher still

A new settlement: The COP26 stakes just got higher still

The UN and the UK government were entirely right to delay COP26, but the planning for one of the most important Summits in human history has to start now

"We, the delegates of this Conference, Mr President, have been trying to accomplish something very difficult to accomplish... It has been our task to find a common measure, a common standard, a common rule acceptable to each and not irksome to any."

- John Maynard Keynes, addressing the Bretton Woods conference on 22 July 1944


In the summer of 1944, as war still raged in Europe and the Pacific, over 700 top politicians, diplomats, and economists from across all 44 of the Allied powers gathered at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods to thrash out the foundations for a new world order.

For a fortnight fierce debates and tense negotiations played out, numerous proposals were considered and rejected, and Soviet officials ultimately rejected the whole enterprise. But a generation scarred by the murderous failure of geo-politics that followed the First World War, by economic depression, and by fascist aggression, ultimately coalesced around the principles that had brought them together in New Hampshire in the first place: an end to beggar thy neighbour monetary competition, a recognition of the mutual shared interest that flows from financial stability, a desire for resilience.

The result was a system of international governance and financial regulation, which, in conjunction with the Marshall Plan that turbocharged the repair of post-War Europe, provided the foundations for the Western World's economic dominance. For the near 30 years that the Bretton Woods system held sway the world was almost completely free of banking crisis - a period of financial stability not seen before or since. Plenty of other political and economic factors were also in play, but that stability provided the foundations for one of the longest and most sustained periods of economic development in human history.

The system may not have secured universal support - the world was still at war when it was founded - but it cemented the West's hegemonic power and provided a Keynsian-flavoured template that many developing countries would later follow.  

Most important of all it helped ensure that the mistakes that followed the end of World War One were not repeated. Plenty of economic crises, regional wars, terrorist atrocities, and vast systemic and personal injustices persisted. But broadly speaking, even at the nadir of the Cold War or the in the darkest days of the War on Terror, a battered sense of political and economic order just about held sway. Things just about held together. Global development motored forward. The world never quite succumbed the temptation to tear itself apart.

Can that temptation be resisted now?

It is increasingly clear the world is facing its biggest test since the end of the Second World War. Humanity has teetered closer to nuclear Armageddon in the past, but the challenge presented by coronavirus is amplified by the fact it is not one but three interlocking crises. It is first and foremost a public health crisis as governments and key workers around the world mobilise in a desperate attempt to save millions of lives. But it is also an economic crisis that already looks like it could far exceed the 2008 crash. And it is a geopolitical crisis as politicians attempt to co-ordinate a global response to a global threat only to find that the US President is demonstrably incompetent and has empowered a generation of nationalist leaders who regard multilateralism in much the same way as they regard dissident journalists.

Meanwhile, carbon dioxide levels have just passed 415 parts per million, higher than any time in human existence and higher than any time in the past two to five million years. Climate records are being broken on an almost monthly basis and before the coronavirus crisis consumed everyone's attention the UN was warning that levels of hunger were worsening for the first time this century due to worsening climate impacts.

When the UK was awarded the rights to host the crucial COP26 climate summit the obvious model was some kind of cross between the London 2012 Olympics and Crystal Palace World Fair - a post-Brexit celebration of Britain's remarkable decarbonisation record and clean technology brilliance, a showcase for a net zero transition that other nations can and must follow. Glasgow was chosen to physically locate world leaders in one of the crucibles of the first Industrial Revolution. Diplomatic strategies were tailored to channel Boris Johnson's particular brand of sunlit upland, techno-optimism. The Summit promised to be a celebration of multilateralism, either in defiance of a re-elected President Trump or in anticipation of a newly climate-engaged White House. It was the right strategy for the right time. But times have changed.

Yesterday's decision to delay COP26 was entirely the right one. There are reasons to be hopeful that the UK may have returned to some degree of normality by the autumn, but there are also valid reasons to fear an extended restriction on large gatherings or a spike in new coronavirus cases later in the year. The Glasgow conference centre and the back-up venue in London are both being turned into field hospitals. They could be needed for some time yet.

Even if the UK has got through the worst of the crisis by November, the strength of the UN climate talks is drawn from their universality and it seems tragically likely that many countries will still be wrestling with unprecedented public health crises deep into 2020 and beyond. A summit trying to broker a universal agreement cannot be successful if some players are unable to leave their home countries.

And the logistical challenges were just one small part of the problem. Coronavirus has effectively shutdown the various diplomatic avenues that could have led to a successful summit. Politicians the world over are rightly focused on their primary duty to keep people safe. Many of them remain committed to strengthening their climate strategies, mobilising green finance, and unveiling net zero targets, but their ability to deliver a huge wave of such plans has been badly compromised. The EU and China are not in a position to cajole others to embrace more ambitious plans. Meanwhile, those governments who continue to undermine ambitious climate action have been given all the cover they need to further dilute their already inadequate decarbonisation efforts.

This is arguably the only time in recent history when kicking the can a little down the road may benefit global climate action.

However, if delay was inevitable it is also true that there is now no time to waste. Pandemics pass and history suggests that economies can bounce back fast from external shocks. The UK government and its allies have a little over a year to make the case for a world order fit for purpose in a 21st century defined by climate impacts, pandemic risks, and dangerously brittle systems. Everything rests on them getting it right.

As plenty of observers have noted, delaying COP26 until mid-2021 provides the UK and the UN with several opportunities. Firstly, it gives the UK the time to correct the somewhat scattergun organisation that has taken place to date and pull more heavyhitters into its COP26 team. Secondly, the IPCC is due to publish its next major report last year and - although the timetable for this critical research may also be forced to slip a little - judging by the huge impact its analysis of the risks that come with just 1.5C of warming had it could yet play a major role in galvanising global action. Third, given the UK is set to host the G7 Summit next summer and COP26 co-host Italy is to host the G20, that diplomatic choreography should push climate change up the agenda. And fourth, everyone will know by then whether the Paris Agreement progresses in spite of a second term Trump Presidency or with vocal backing from a new US President touting his pledge to fully decarbonise the world's most influential economy.

Most of all though, barring absolute catastrophe (and sadly that can't be ruled out) the global focus once the worst of the pandemic has passed will inevitably shift towards questions of recovery and resilience. There should be a new humility in our collective understanding of long-tail risks, human interconnectedness, and environmental limits. As the UN, the IEA, and countless political and businesses leaders have already noted, the case for a recovery that rejuvenates frayed institutions, tackles catastrophic risks, foregrounds the ties between our environment and our health, and drives investment in clean 21st century infrastructure is as obvious as it is compelling.

As I've argued before, none of this is guaranteed. It is arguably just as possible that governments and societies will respond with nationalism and scape-goating, fuelling a supremely dangerous aftermath to the pandemic that could heap tragedy upon tragedy.

COP26 may not be the perfect forum to push back against these impulses. But equally the values of multi-lateralism, enlightenment values, shared mutual self-interest, and sustainable development that characterise the Paris Agreement are the perfect antidote to the short termist, dog-eat-dog philosophies that now threaten to turn a global health crisis into a full blown cataclysm. The net zero mission remains the likeliest route to a sustainable and just recovery.

The world is in the grip of the worst health crisis in over a century and the biggest geopolitical and economic test in over 70 years. It comes only 12 years after a financial crash which condemned far too many young people to a lost economic decade. And it is playing out against a backdrop of still escalating global carbon emissions and metastasizing environmental threats that could trigger a century of rolling crises. It needs saying again and again, if climate scientists warnings are even half right we are condemning ourselves and future generations to a hot and dangerous new world.

Green businesses, inspiring campaigners, brilliant engineers, and determined policymakers are straining every sinew to avert disaster, but for all the progress they have made too often the odds are stacked against them.

We need a new settlement, a new Bretton Woods, a new Marshall Plan, for a world turned on its head. And if not at COP26, then where?

Road to Glasgow gets a little longer

Road to Glasgow gets a little longer

So, all roads in climate change still lead to Glasgow… just not in November.

In truth, since the full scale of Covid-19's impact on Europe, East Asia and North America started becoming clear, the decision to postpone this year's United Nations climate change summit into next year has only been a matter of time.

The biggest problem isn't the health risk of assembling tens of thousands of people in a crowded conference venue at a time of the year when coronavirus may be making a wintertime resurgence - although that is big enough.

The main issue is that 95 per cent, perhaps 99 per cent, of the important work has to be complete before a UN climate summit opens in order for it to have any chance of success.

With governments focussed on safeguarding the health of their citizens and their economies through the Covid-19 crisis, bandwidth for international engagement and national policymaking on climate change was very clearly in short supply. The same calculation had already led the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD to announce postponement of its critical 2020 summit from its scheduled October date.

It's worth noting that we still have little idea of how Covid-19 will impact the world's poorest countries, in sub-Sarahan Africa and South Asia. Factor that in, and postponing COP26 was inevitable.

So what happens now?

Preparations for COP26 don't, however, come to a grinding halt. Preparatory meetings hosted by the UN climate convention will continue, though many of them remotely.

The annual two-week 'intersessional' meeting in Bonn will now take place in October rather than June - and that four-month delay is a useful indicator of how much disruption governments are prepared to contemplate from Covid-19 on the international climate change calendar.

It's also notable that Carolina Schmidt of Chile, which hosted last December's COP25 and which remains President of the process until the Glasgow summit opens, said in her statement that the process of gathering countries' enhanced commitments on cutting their emissions to 2030 (NDCs) will continue this year.

Indeed, the Paris Agreement calls for delivery of three key things - NDCs, long-term decarbonisation plans to 2050, and financial support worth $100bn per year - 'by 2020', not 'by COP26'.

One suspects that the timescale on these is going to drag into next year. But Ms Schmidt's overall point is well-made - delaying the intersessional by four months and COP26 by perhaps six does not mean the Chilean and UK governments have carte blanche to kick back and do nothing. All the same things still need doing - diplomatic alliances still need forming, leaders' real priorities need elucidating, bridges still need building with some of the more recalcitrant nations.

The request for an early decision on postponement came from the UK government. And in acceding to it, rather than inviting other potential host governments to step forwards, the community of nations is placing a considerable body of trust in Boris Johnson not to step away from his diplomatic responsibilities.

Juggling the timetable

Postponing the UN climate summit into spring or summer 2021 means some important changes of sequencing in the diplomatic calendar.

Most obviously, there will now be a period of months rather than days between the US Presidential election and COP26. If Joe Biden wins, that would allow his incoming administration to play a constructive role, which would substantively change the tenor of the talks.

On the European front, it could mean that the EU will have firmly and unequivocally adopted a net zero emissions target before the summit opens. That would also be a major fillip to plans taking shape now to build a ‘net zero club' of nations, regions, cities and businesses committed to ending their emissions by 2050, as science indicates is necessary.

The UK holds the G7 Presidency in 2021, while its summit partner Italy presides over the G20. Under the original sequencing, those terms of office were being seen as ‘implementation' mechanisms for the Glasgow outcomes.

Under the new timetable, this changes. Now, the UK and Italy can integrate their plans for COP26 and its preliminaries with their plans for leading the G-blocs.

Covid-19 turns this from being simply a paper exercise into something that is potentially a lot more meaningful.

Logically, the G7 and G20 will have major roles to play in the global economic recovery. What would be more logical than to join up the processes of responding to climate change, with enhanced commitments on reducing emissions and enhanced support for the poorest nations, with post-virus economic recovery? With the UK and Italy at the helm of both?

UK breathing space?

The delay sorts out a little problem the UK had over submitting its own NDC (which I described in a previous post). Government advisors the Committee on Climate Change will put forward their new recommendations on national emission-cutting in September, and the government now has time simply to copy-and-paste that into its new NDC and still get it submitted well before COP26 opens.

But it doesn't really allow ministers to take their feet off the national policymaking accelerator. The government was already behind schedule in areas such as transport, land-use and above all home heating. If ministers stick to their original schedules they now have a chance to land all of this - all of it - before COP26, and so ensure that the UK is demonstrably on track to its net zero target.

When Covid-19 clears, this will still be the single most important benchmark of whether the UK is credibly able to play its 'global leadership' card at the summit.

Not that long away

Right now, it seems like a long time until summer 2021 (and yes, I'm assuming both biodiversity and climate COPs will be in summer.)

But the milestones will come round quickly enough.

And all of the factors that made COP26 important - climate change impacts, growing public concern, investor pressure on fossil fuel companies, plummeting costs of renewable energy and electric transportation - will still be there. Already, about half of global GDP is generated in places that have adopted or are intending to adopt a net zero emissions target. That's only heading in one direction.

The faith groups, doctors' groups, theatre groups, sports clubs and everyone else who was gearing up to mark COP26 across the UK and more widely can put their plans to one side for now. But they will be back as soon as Covid-19 allows and COP replacement dates start being bandied around.

COP26, like climate change, may be temporarily on the back burner. But by the time we get to summer 2021, the delay will look like a pretty short one.

Richard Black is director of think tank ECIU

This article first appeared at ECIU's blog

EU carbon market emissions fell 8.7 per cent in 2019, data indicates

EU carbon market emissions fell 8.7 per cent in 2019, data indicates

Greenhouse gas emissions traded under Europe's ETS dropped 8.7 per cent overall last year, although many airlines saw their CO2 rise

Carbon emissions regulated under the European Union's emissions trading systems (ETS) fell by 8.7 per cent last year, marking the carbon market's largest annual CO2 decline in a decade, according to preliminary analysis by Refinitiv Carbon.

The analyst firm looked at the latest verified ETS emissions data published by the European Commission yesterday, which it said indicated carbon emissions from Europe's airlines and large scale power, heat, and industrial facilities in 2019 altogether fell by their largest level since 2009.

The ETS covers the largest emitters in Europe and therefore mostly comprises energy generators, and the data suggests the overall drop in emissions within the cap-and-trade scheme last year was largely driven by the continuing shift away from coal in the power sector.

Emissions from power and heating generation fell by 14 per cent, while the drop in emissions within industrial sector - such as large scale manufacturing facilities - dropped by a more modest 2.7 per cent, according to Reuters.

Refinitiv Carbon said that although the EU Commission's data was incomplete, with only around 90 per cent of emitters reporting, the overall reduction in emissions was unlikely to shift significantly.

The market-based system regulates around 45 per cent of EU greenhouse gases by enabling large emitters to trade their CO2 allowances that are awarded based on an overall emissions cap for the market which becomes incrementally tighter over time. Companies that exceed their cap have to buy additional EU Allowances (EUAs) to cover their emissions, while those that emit less than their cap can sell their excess EUAs, thus ensuring all firms have a financial incentive to cut their emissions. 

The market is a major pillar of the EU's decarbonisation strategy and following reforms designed to tackle oversupply in the market last summer the price of carbon surged to record levels of around €28 per tonne. However, the escalating coronavirus crisis has over the past month has seen prices drop to around €15 per tonne due to a sharp fall in electricity demand across Europe.

As a result of the pandemic-induced lockdown on much of Europe's economy, emissions in some sectors - such as aviation - are widely expected to fall in 2020, although it remains to be seen whether the economic recovery could spur a longer term increase in CO2, amid growing calls for green stimulus measures.

The data released yesterday also indicates five of Europe's largest airlines managed to reduce their emissions slightly last year, including British Airways, Eurowings, Alitalia, TUI Airways, and Norwegian Airways.

But despite the overall drop in CO2 across industries regulated by the ETS last year, greenhouse gases from 14 of the 20 biggest airlines still shot up in 2019, according to NGO Transport & Environment (T&E).

Those reporting increased emissions include RyanAir, EasyJet, Finnair, Air France, Austrian Airlines, and DHL Deutsche Post, while one airline - SAS - has not yet reported its emissions.

Andrew Murphy, aviation manager at T&E, said although many airlines were now grounded as a result of Covid-19, he expected them to bounce back after the crisis, and called on governments to push the industry to use greener fuels when the economy starts to recover.

"Airlines grew their emissions right up until this crisis," he said. "But this current bust will be followed by another boom in CO2 so long as aviation emissions remain untaxed and unregulated. Governments must break that cycle by sticking with the European Green Deal commitment to rein in emissions growth."

Elsewhere, UK paper industry trade association CPI welcomed the latest emissions data, which it said showed British paper and pulp mills met their CO2 obligation last year, following a collective 3.2 per cent drop in emissions compared to 2018.

CPI director general Andrew Large said UK paper and pulp mills had now reduced their emissions by around a third over the past decade, largely thanks to greater energy efficiency. "Even during a year of huge uncertainty caused by Brexit, our industry still delivered on energy efficiency," he said.

However, Large claimed the cost of compliance with the ETS was becoming more challenging for paper mills due to the rising cost of CO2 in the ETS which "raced away" during 2019, and called for policy certainty for UK industry over the future of carbon trading after Brexit when the UK plans to formally leave the ETS.

"The paper industry continues to prove that we can decarbonise and with the right policy support progress can be even faster," said Large. "As we look forward to recovering from the coronavirus crisis, the last thing we need is huge new carbon costs taking money away that could be invested to decarbonise the industry."

Electrolux reports plummeting emissions and vows to ramp up product energy efficiency

Electrolux reports plummeting emissions and vows to ramp up product energy efficiency

Sweden's Electrolux has today revealed that it has reduced absolute carbon dioxide emissions from its operations by 75 per cent since 2005, speeding past its previous target to halve its emissions by 2020.

In its latest sustainability report, the home appliance giant also revealed it used 20 times more recycled plastic in its products in 2019 compared to 2011, and 44 per cent less energy per manufactured product compared to 15 years ago.

"Sustainability has always been very important for Electrolux," said Jonas Samuelson, chief executive. "Our updated overall framework is more aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and represents our strong commitment to contribute to key global challenges by supporting consumers in making sustainable choices."

The report is the first released by the company since announcing its commitment to achieving carbon neutrality across its supply chains by 2050, a pledge signed with a raft of other business leaders last September on the eve of New York Climate Week.

That longer term goal complements the firm's science-based emissions targets set in 2018 to reduce its Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 80 per cent between 2015 and 2025, before reaching climate neutrality across its own operations by 2030. It also pledged to slash emissions across its supply chain and from the use of the products it sells - known as Scope 3 emissions - by a quarter over the same timeframe. The Scope 3 target covers two thirds of all products sold by Electrolux, the firm said.

Highlighting progress towards the goal, the report confirms that last year more than a fifth of consumer products sold by Electrolux were deemed energy and water-efficient.

However, the report also highlights room for improvement, noting that the firm is currently "off track" when it comes to reaching its goal for developing products with good environmental performance. Electrolux said it planned to remedy this shortfall by investing further in green research and development efforts.

Moreover, at the close of last year, 45 per cent of the firm's operational energy mix came from renewables, just shy of its 50 per cent target for 2020.

Elsewhere in the report, Electrolux noted that it had sucessfully introduced its first green bond framework in early 2019, issuing SEK1bn (£80m) bond to finance various sustainability initiatives, including investments in recycling, improving appliance energy and water efficiency, eliminating toxic refrigerants, and installing solar panels at facilities.

Company car tax rule change could provide keys for "massive" EV market boost

Company car tax rule change could provide keys for "massive" EV market boost

Drivers of company cars who opt to go electric will pay no benefit-in-kind (BiK) tax from next week, marking a dramatic drop from the 16 per cent rate in place today

The government's new company car tax regime has the potential to spur a boom in electric vehicle (EV) sales, once the industry weathers a supply crunch that is being further exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis.

From next Monday, drivers of electric company cars will pay zero benefit-in-kind (BiK) tax, a dramatic decrease from the 16 per cent rate in place today. The tax is then set to inch up to just one per cent in 2021-2022 and two per cent in 2022-2023, but either way the financial case for company car drivers to switch to an EV is set to be drastically improved overnight.

For example, the driver of a Tesla Model 3 Performance provided through work will pay no BiK tax in 2020-2021 tax year, a far cry from the £3,611.84 or £1,805.96 they would have shelled out on the same model last year, depending on the staffer's tax band.

"This is a big deal," says Jason Doran, marketing consultant at the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, a public-private partnership that advocates for low- and zero-emissions vehicles. "There's a huge number of company vehicles on the road, and if you can change buying behaviour, that filters fairly quickly through to the used car market... In a normal world, it could absolutely, have a big, big effect because company car drivers that have been paying hundreds and hundreds of pounds in tax every month, and suddenly pay nothing."

Alas, the past month has been far from a "normal world" and Doran acknowledges that the impact of the coronavirus crisis makes it extremely difficult to make predictions about how much demand the tax change will drive. But experts remain optimistic that in the long term the new tax break will provide a sizeable boost to an already fast-growing EV market.

Company cars typically have a shorter shelf life than personal cars, meaning that any uptick in EV numbers in company fleets will be felt by consumers looking to bag a second-hand bargain in three to four years' time.

The new tax rules will also benefit plug-in hybrids and under the changes the higher a hybrid's electric range, the less tax its driver pays. A car with an electric range of 40 to 69 miles will pay six per cent BIK tax from 6 April, whereas a car with an electric range of less than 30 miles pays 12 per cent.

Company cars make up a significant chunk of the UK's new car market, about half of all lease cars or roughly 320,000 new registrations annually, according to Toby Poston, director of corporate affairs at the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA). Leasing vehicles make up more than half of new car registrations, according to Society of Motor Manufacturer Traders (SMMT) statistics.

It is also a segment of the auto industry that leads the pack when it comes to innovation, according to Poston, on account of decisions being made by careful, long-term thinkers. "We always say to the government that this is the part of the automotive sector that can make the change to new technology, whether that's electric vehicles or autonomous vehicles, quickest," he says. "Because it's quite a small number of businesses registering all these vehicles and they make very rational choices, based on total cost of ownership."

Poston expects that the new tax incentives will work with the existing EV plug-in grant to spur a  "massive, massive boost" to the EV market. The company car market is bristling from "pent-up demand", he says, following 18 months of Brexit-induced economic uncertainty and lack of clarity on the future of the governments' EV grant and tax plans - both of which were resolved at the recent Budget.

Any surge in demand will also build on encouraging foundations. The percentage of company cars that are pure EV has grown from one per cent  this time last year, to six or seven per cent currently. Poston expects BVRLA members to all be recording "double figures" by 2023. Alphabet GB, a business lease firm, told Open Access Government in early March that it had already seen a 165 per cent increase in plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles and SMMT figures show that EV sales doubled in the second half of 2019, after the government revealed its upcoming tax plans.

Poppy Welch, head of EV campaign group Go Ultra Low, says that the new benefit "will encourage further EV options to be introduced to fleets, as companies work to pass on the tax savings to their employees. It will also add further momentum to the UK's EV market, which grew an impressive 21 per cent in 2019."

However, supply concerns exacerbated by ongoing disruption of supply chains from the coronavirus outbreak may dull the tax change's immediate effect, as will questions around whether carmakers will choose to invest efforts in rolling out EVs in the UK as they work to comply to strict new EU emissions laws introduced on 1 January.

The coronavirus crisis makes market predictions tough, accepts Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership's Doran. "There's a lot of talk of new models coming in, like the VW ID3, but these could all be delayed," he warns. "If you haven't got supply, the [tax change] may not have the impact that was hoped. I don't think any of us can really say what's going to happen."

The government also expects coronavirus to hurt EV momentum. A spokesperson from the Department for Transport told BusinessGreen on Thursday that "the new company car tax rates are designed to provide a strong incentive to boost uptake of zero emission vehicles. However, given the impact of Covid-19 and resulting disruption to vehicle factories and dealerships, a slowdown is to be expected."

The automotive and battery industries are indeed bearing the brunt of social distancing measures. Earlier this month, Nissan halted production at its Sunderland factory, which makes in every five EVs sold in Europe last year, due to coronavirus. Audi has scaled down production of its electric e-tron SUV e-tron in its Brussels plant, blaming battery shortages. Clean energy analyst Bloomberg NEF downgraded its expectations for batteries by four per cent on March 12, noting that disruptions in the car market will have ramifications for EV and battery demand.

On mainland Europe, some car manufacturers are lobbying the EU to relax carbon emissions standards as they shutter their plants in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. A spokesperson for European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) told BusinessGreen in an email earlier this week that the auto industry had "essentially come to an abrupt halt - something the sector has never experienced before". But German carmakers, including Volkswagen that have invested heavily in electric vehicle development, are reportedly opposing the calls for a delay to more stringent emission standards.

But regardless of coronavirus concerns and the continuing need for improvements in charging infrastructure,  Poston says that predictions that 2020 would be 'year of the electric car' and a tipping point for the industry that were touted pre-pandemic remain valid, noting that a "tipping point in mentality" is underway.

The UK's largest leasing company LeasePlan, for example, has committed to electrifying its employee fleet by 2021 and has signed the EV100 pledge to deliver a zero-emissions fleet by 2030. Competitors such as Lex and Zenith have similarly joined the group.

"We're all set for a really positive uptake, once we get back to work properly, and the supply chain starts again together," Poston concludes. Government ministers, leading businesses, environmental campaigners, and top automakers will all be hoping that his optimism proves justified.

Coronavirus Response: A new paradigm for climate action in the 2020s

Coronavirus Response: A new paradigm for climate action in the 2020s

The world can emerge stronger from this crisis if we seize the opportunity to collectively chart a course towards the future we want, argues CISL's Dame Polly Courtice

As the world comes to terms with a global pandemic that has threatened and turned upside-down the lives and livelihoods of people across the globe, it is clear we are living in extraordinary times.

Many people will be feeling uncertain, anxious and even scared. And of course, for others things have already reached crisis point. Like many other organisations, we at CISL - the University of Cambridge Institute for Sutainability Leadership - have been working hard to support the welfare of our staff and students, whilst adjusting to a remote working model. We've also been focused on supporting our partners in business, government and civil society, as we all try to understand how this crisis will impact on development trajectories in both the short and long term.

If there is any solace to be had, it is that we are facing this unique moment in history together, 7.8 billion of us, going through the same experience at the same time, creating an unprecedented bond between us.

It is tempting to talk about getting 'back to normal', but we will almost certainly not go back to the way things were. In fact, going back to 'normal' is also not what many millions of people aspire to or deserve. For many, the current system has failed to deliver health, wellbeing, and prosperity. Now that the lack of resilience in the 'old' system has been revealed, alongside our ability to mobilise vast sums of money and resources when the economy is at risk, expectations will have been raised about what else is now possible in the face of other crises.

Globally, we have to take this moment to reflect on the need to change and transform our society; to explore lessons from the past and reset our expectations for the future. The shocks to the system that we are experiencing now, and anticipate in future, raise so many questions about the things that we have taken for granted, and demonstrate what is possible when we need to respond urgently. So this is a crucial time to be asking some big questions.

The way nation states govern, coordinate responses, and spend; the relationship between business, government and civil society; the relationship between globalisation and localism; the dominance of competition over cooperation; how and why we work and consume; our attitudes about what we value in society and how we relate to one another; what we need to let go of, and what new possibilities might open up. All these things are being challenged and disrupted. For some, this crisis will harden whatever views they previously held - but for others it will shape new possibilities and understanding. The reality is that our very way of life is likely to be profoundly changed for ever. This is an opportunity to shape the future, not just respond to it.

There are some principles that we can trust in and rely upon. For example, the laws of nature, the laws of physics, the inter-connectedness of human and natural systems, the emerging clarity about our interdependence and what we value as societies, and the importance of science to inform evidence-led decision making.

These fundamental principles remind us that what we are experiencing now, despite its magnitude, is a mere dress rehearsal for the system shocks that lie ahead, unleashed by climate change and ecosystem collapse, and - if left unaddressed - the potentially devastating impact on society.

The decade that we earmarked for getting our climate on track for net zero by 2050 and making progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals will now play out in a new paradigm, where transformational change takes on wholly new possibilities. We can undoubtedly emerge as a stronger global community and more resilient society if we seize the opportunity of this crisis, of this wake-up call, to collectively chart a course towards the future we want.


Dame Polly Courtice is director of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

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