Emergency Warning

As the coronavirus virus spreads worryingly from China into Europe, it is a useful reminder for those responding to the Climate Emergency of what the word “emergency” really implies. It touches everything.

Firstly when something is genuinely seen as an emergency, things that were previously seen as “impossible”, rapidly become possible. Governments and authorities discover they have the courage to take drastic action to reduce the risks to their population. Putting whole cities in quarantine, or building hospitals in a fortnight.  And far from being blamed for being “Nanny state”, the governments that do the most get the most praise.

What a difference to the response to the Climate Emergency, where governments have been dickering for years about the details of how to quantify their contributions to global decarbonisation. Will the UK stimulate an outbreak of courage at the important COP26 meeting in Glasgow this November?  I hope so.

Secondly, when there’s an emergency, consumer demand suddenly shifts focus in ways that were previously undreamed of. Demand for cruise ship holidays plummets. Long haul flying suddenly seems very unattractive: in early February, the number of domestic and international flights from China fell by 87% within 3 weeks!  However, other areas thrive.  In China’s quarantined cities, demand for online entertainment is booming, and millions of businesses are using apps such as DingTalk and WeChatWork to let their employees work from home.   Use of WeChatWork increased 10 fold in a day.

As we discover the attractive alternatives to commuting and flying, it will help the transition to Net Zero too.

Thirdly, Coronavirus is making it incredibly clear that businesses with complex global supply chains are very vulnerable.  Disruption in any one part of that chain, whether because of a virus or an extreme weather event, stops everything.  Fiat had to stop production in Serbia within days of the start of coronavirus restrictions, because of a shortage of audio systems from China. Prawns caught in Scotland are often flown to China for shelling, before being frozen and shipped back to the UK for sale.

Expect big disruptions as a result of this short-sighted high-carbon madness.   But hopefully it will also be an important wake-up call to businesses to reconfigure their supply chains to be more resilient. And if that results in businesses buying more things locally, and shipping fewer components back and forth across the globe during the manufacturing process, it will help us avert catastrophic climate change too.

The final point about an emergency, is that it makes us pay much more attention to the things that really matter. And for me, that’s the health of our communities and the people we love.

Which is why I care about climate change.

Anne Miller