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Covid and the climate crisis

Climate Change By Simon Wyatt, Partner, Sustainability – 24 April 2020

3D graphic of the globe surrounded by several connected red pathogen particles, all against a grey-blue background


Simon Wyatt in front of office facade in a dark suit and blue shirt

Simon Wyatt

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2020 began with so much promise; the start of a decade of climate action. Four months later and the world’s attention has shifted to the immediate health crisis posed by Covid-19 and the ensuing economic crash. Simon Wyatt, Sustainability Partner at Cundall, discusses what short and long-term impacts this may have on the drive towards net zero carbon.

In these unprecedented and tragic times, Cundall’s immediate priority is the health and wellbeing of our staff. However, if anything, the current global crisis has only strengthened our resolve that climate change is the greatest threat to the planet and our way of life. Over the past few months, we have seen the thin veneer of our daily lives stripped away to reveal the fragility of our just in time economy and just how quickly a global crisis can affect every element of our lives.

With the current lockdown, we have seen some short-term environmental benefits, such as improvements in air quality. CO2 emissions have fallen 5%; the fastest rate since the end of the second world war due. But to put that in context we need a 7.6% year on year reduction in the next decade to meet the Paris 1.5°C target.


Our current trajectory sets us on course for at least a 3oC global temperature rise, which will have profound impacts on us all. Climate scientists have for a while been accurately predicting the changes in our climate and their impacts on our ecology, environment, humanity and the economy, including the recent wildfires and flooding events. These same scientists are predicting massive distribution to global food production, more extreme weather events leading to mass human displacement, all of which will give rise to poverty and public health issues. They predict that pandemics, like the one we are currently facing, will become more frequent due to the rising public health issues.

It is therefore vital that we act now and act fast in the hope of alleviating the worst of the predicted outcomes. In order to achieve reduction on this scale, we need complete societal transformation to flatten the emission curves and allow our ecosystem to cope. Achieving net zero carbon must be at the heart of our response to this crisis. As the built environment is responsible for up to 40% of global carbon emissions; it is imperative that we develop scalable solutions to meet this challenge.

However, the current public health crisis is set to push us into the worst economic decline in living memory, with millions losing their jobs. Global stocks have fallen over 30% in the last couple of months, going forward we will see a significant decrease in available capital at precisely the wrong time. By the end of the year, unemployment may reach double figures in parts of Europe and is projected to be as high as 20% in the US.

Governments worldwide are therefore looking at economic stimulus packages to help kick start the recovery. But are they looking in the right directions? We need to design the stimulus not only to help the economy recover but to also become more resilient to future global crises including the growing climate crisis.

We believe a Green New Deal is the best way of doing just that. Addressing climate change doesn’t have to slow down the economic recovery, it can be used to push it forward. The UK Government has set a target to be net zero carbon by 2050 which will require radical transformation of our entire economy. In the built environment, at least 70% of the buildings we will operate in 2050 have already been built today and will need significant enhancements to get them on the path to net zero. This means refurbishing over 23 million homes and billions of square feet of non-domestic buildings: including schools, public and private buildings. What better way to stimulate our recovery, whilst creating a whole new, world leading, green industry?

If history is any indication, recovering from an economic disruption this large requires an equally large spike in demand and production. Outside of war, climate change is the only issue large enough to provide such a stimulus. Now is the time to create bold new policies that provide immediate relief to local communities, whilst creating thousands of green jobs.

At the end of the last recession, only 15% of the stimulus was focused on sustainable measures. As we come out of lockdown, all sectors of the industry will be looking to their government for support and we need to make sure net zero carbon is at the front of the queue. In previous recessions, governments have look to strip their natural capital to aid the economic recovery so we need to offer an alternative solution.

The market is ready and just needs support to achieve its full potential. Cundall has therefore set out a simple stepped process for achieving net zero carbon and is launching each step through a new social media campaign, #StepstoNetZero. We understand that in order to achieve our target, we cannot do this alone; we need industry wide action.

Every country in the world will have to respond to climate change and, just like the Covid-19 crisis, those that get on top of it early will then be able to show the rest of the world the way. Investment from the government will not only save money later (actuaries calculate that governments investing $1 in climate resilience today will save $5 in losses tomorrow (at current prices*)) but will drive an amazing new industry. It is time to invest in our green new future.

* The Economist, August 2019: