The climate implications of COVID-19 – short-term standstill, long-term change?

While the COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly a crisis, we are still in the throes of another – the climate crisis.  Climate change is already impacting communities across the UK and reality is really setting in that over the next 50 years, during many of our life times, there will be even more devastating consequences. 

In the early weeks of lockdown there were a few glimmers of hope that the forced standstill might at least grant us a small reprieve to the increasing carbon dioxide levels, and buy us some time to get our act together. And indeed, there were numerous reports of improved air quality and smog free scenes. However, the latest atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory shows that levels are still increasing rapidly and reached a new peak of 417.07 parts per million in May 2020. The sudden reduction in emissions during the global pandemic is barely visible in the record.  

This really brings home the scale of the challenge we face. Our best and only option is to enact dramatic, sustained change on a truly unprecedented scale. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how much change can be achieved in a very short space of time when the political will is there. 

The TCPA has been campaigning for fundamental action on climate change for decades. I recently was looking back at some papers from the TCPA’s Planning for Climate Change Coalition was established in 2009 – it was depressing to read that the same conversations were happening then and a decade of precious time has been lost as climate change has consistently been deprioritised by government. However, in the last two or three years there has been a definite shift in the atmosphere, mainly driven by the intensifying public lobbying. Progress is finally being made again; for example in the last year 282 local authorities have declared climate emergencies. The challenge is to make sure these good intentions translate into action on the ground and are not taken over by post-COVID economic recovery at any cost. 

This year, the TCPA will be continuing to add to our online resources for local authorities. We are updating our guidance on energy masterplanning and producing new resources for communities at risk of flooding, as well as exploring wider ideas about how to plan for, and mitigate against, climate change (for example through a National Resilience Act). We will be doing all we can to make sure that the recovery period from this pandemic is used to truly embed climate-proof, sustainable policies across the board. 

To inform this work and tailor the support we are able to give, we are asking local authority planners for their insights into how they are planning for climate change through a survey. If you work for a local authority we would be grateful for your response – thank you!  

This survey has now closed.

Further information on the TCPA’s work on planning for climate change is available here 

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