By Professor John Bryson
Department of Strategy and International Business, University of Birmingham
COVID-19 has been extremely disruptive, with impacts including enhanced mortality and morbidity combined with unemployment, the collapse of firms, and concerns about mental health and wellbeing. Nevertheless, the direct impacts of COVID-19 occurred over a very short period requiring immediate action.
The direct and indirect impacts of climate change, however, will be much more damaging to life on Earth compared to COVID-19. The problem is that these impacts have a much longer duration. It is thus much harder to persuade individuals, households, companies, and governments to engage in mitigating activities. The climate change clock continues to tick, and the speed of impacts is accelerating. It is not too late for action, but humanity is close to the point when it will be. Now is the time to act and to act responsibly, wisely, with care and rapidly.
The UK’s post-pandemic recovery strategy is positioned around the mantra of ‘building back better’. To mitigate against climate change, this ‘better’ must be associated with revolutionary change. There must be no going back to carbon-intensive lifestyles. The Government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, published on 18 November 2020, must be welcomed.
This plan is, nevertheless, extremely predictable. A ten-minute chat amongst friends would have produced a similar set of priorities, which to list them are:
- Advancing offshore wind.
- Driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen.
- Delivering new and advanced nuclear power.
- Accelerating the shift to zero emission vehicles.
- Green public transport, cycling and walking.
- Jet zero and green ships.
- Greener buildings.
- Investing in carbon capture, usage, and storage.
- Protecting our natural environment.
- Green finance and innovation.
Perhaps one could argue that this is a good first attempt – a starting point. But there needs to be a more effective approach to moderating the destructive impacts of climate change, which requires revolutionary change at the heart of national, regional, and local governments. And this change must also be global. Climate change is a global problem that needs national interventions that engage with the development of a set of global ‘solutions’. But the time for solutions to climate change is long past, and now all that is possible are mitigations and adaptations that must revolutionise life as we know it on planet earth.
As a plan for a green industrial revolution, there are many important omissions. This strategy is less about industry and more about the energy infrastructure that supports industry. There must also be more focus on forcing all organisations to reduce waste and environmental pollutants.
All production systems will need to change radically and rapidly. And a good starting point would be to rapidly identify those sectors and activities that contribute the most to climate change and to put in place measures to force innovation. In some cases, technological solutions might be impossible, and some activities must cease and be replaced by zero-waste and zero-emission alternatives.
Ultimately, this Ten Point Plan needs to be underpinned by two important government interventions that are required now.
First, the government must acknowledge that mitigation and adaptation to climate change is a crosscutting political challenge. Once this is accepted, then all existing and future policies must contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. One could argue that the Ten Point Plan should be the annex to a more revolutionary political approach to climate change that acknowledges that everything needs to change. A good example is that our current approach to spatial planning is not designed to facilitate zero-emission urban lifestyles and alternative approaches to urban planning must be developed.
Second, climate change is a problem that will be experienced by all living on this planet. There is no escape; mitigations and adaptations are required by government, all organisations, households, and individuals. Everyone living in the UK should be encouraged and ultimately forced to alter their behaviour and lifestyles. At the centre of government policy must be a set of cross-cutting strategies that encourage these lifestyle adjustments.
The Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business will increasingly play a critical role in identifying and facilitating the adoption of new pathways to zero-waste and zero-emission business futures. All responsible businesses must take the development of climate change mitigation and adaptation seriously. The alternative would be irresponsible.
In any case, consumer behaviour, with the ‘Thunberg Generation’, will transition away from carbon-intensive consumption. New business and profit-making opportunities will be increasingly centred around the development of new products and services designed to support zero-emission lifestyles. For business, taking climate change seriously is to act responsibly. But this is also the pathway to future profitability.
Book your free online place for the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business’ third annual conference, on Thursday 25 March, where building back better will be one of the many critical topics being debated at a series of panel discussions featuring top experts and business leaders.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham.