The Cheat Sheet

A low-carbon world: Our best bet post Covid

| Updated on August 05, 2020 Published on August 05, 2020

Isn’t that obvious?

Not for all; especially for those that matter when it comes to taking initiative to make the world a better place once Covid-19 is contained. Even though emissions have come down globally as a result of the lockdowns the pandemic has necessitated in order to contain the spread of the virus — just this month a study found that Covid-19 has led to the largest drop in emissions in human history (greenhouse gas emissions: 2.5 gigatonnes (4.6 per cent) — it remains a fact that the world is raring to go back to pre-Covid levels of economic activity once a ray of light appears at the end of the tunnel.

That’s a given. Will we ever learn?

You said it! That’s perhaps why a group of eminent economists have written a letter, which has been published on The Guardian, saying that our best bet for rebuilding our pandemic-wrecked world lies in how fast we are going to end the carbon economy. The economists who have endorsed the letter include Jeffrey Sachs, Joseph Stiglitz, Clair Brown, Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Robert Reich, and Gabriel Zucman. The letter gains importance during these times when business leaders, policy-makers, scientists and academics are putting their heads together to chart out the future course of the planet. What we think today has the potential to make or break our future post-Covid.

Interesting! What are the key suggestions from the economists?

The letter starts by saying that the pandemic has initiated a new world order where extreme inequalities will make life miserable for a large chunk of the global population. Factors such as deep-rooted racism, environmental damages and policies that favour the rich have already made the world a difficult place to live for a large section of the people, especially in the low-income countries. Now such risks are going to get aggravated in the post-Covid world.


A few reasons, according to the economists. Consider this scenario: there is a global consensus now on the possibility that we should prepare for a long-haul flight with the coronavirus until an affordable and efficient vaccine gets ready. This also means the chances of a big slice of the world’s population, especially those who have already contracted the virus and got out of its clutches, needing a better environment to live in will be more apparent in the near future. According to the WHO, many Covid-19 patients can continue to have issues such as asthma (damaged lungs) and neurological issues.

Oh, that’s scary

Indeed. This is just one of the many worries we will be living with in the post-Covid world. We may be able to get rid of the virus but we have to be on the vigil always in order to ensure our societies function organically. So, taking care of the vulnerable and the weak are going to become a top priority in the post-pandemic world. It is here the relevance of a carbon-free world becomes ever more important.

Can’t agree more! Tell me more.

The economists suggest that in the future we must make sure that people should not be exposed to airborne pollution which heightens the risk of complications from diseases such as Covid. We must tackle deforestation and rising temperatures which make “the emergence of future infectious diseases more likely”. These measures are important because evidence suggests that when consequences manifest, they are disproportionately felt by people of “colour”, low-income communities and similarly vulnerable peoples and historically marginalised groups.

This should not happen. Such unevenness “painfully underscores the weaknesses of our economic system” and hence we must “reimagine it”. Hence, the most significant way we can achieve an equal world post-Covid is by ending the carbon economy.

But it’s a tall order.

Agreed. But Covid has forced the world to sit back and take note of what has gone wrong. There are studies that prove the link between climate change and the increasing risk of pandemics. The recent history of pandemics and epidemics and the rise in the level of anthropocentric (human-induced) emissions and their allied impact on the environment is quite telling. As the economists’ letter notes, crop failures, water shortages, rising tides, wildfires, severe weather, forced migration and pandemics, “go hand-in-hand” with an alarmingly warming world.


So, the time has come to raise our voice at all levels — local bodies, academic institutions, offices, social collectives, policy-making forums, etc., — and make sure the world after the pandemic will be one where we tame fossil fuel burning and extravagant consumption of resources and build a “fairer economic system”. We must recognise that “a healthy economy and society require a healthy planet.”

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Published on August 05, 2020
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