Avoiding a climate lockdown

As Covid-19 spread earlier this year, governments introduced lockdowns in order to prevent a public-health emergency from spinning out of control. In the near future, the world may need to resort to lockdowns again – this time to tackle a climate emergency.

Shifting Arctic ice, raging wildfires in western US states and elsewhere, and methane leaks in the North Sea are all warning signs that we are approaching a tipping point on climate change, when protecting the future of civilization will require dramatic interventions.

 

Under a “climate lockdown,” governments would limit private-vehicle use, ban consumption of red meat, and impose extreme energy-saving measures, while fossil-fuel companies would have to stop drilling. To avoid such a scenario, we must overhaul our economic structures and do capitalism differently.

 

Many think of the climate crisis as distinct from the health and economic crises caused by the pandemic. But the three crises – and their solutions – are interconnected.

 

Covid-19 is itself a consequence of environmental degradation: one recent study dubbed it “the disease of the Anthropocene.” Moreover, climate change will exacerbate the social and economic problems highlighted by the pandemic. These include governments’ diminishing capacity to address public-health crises, the private sector’s limited ability to withstand sustained economic disruption, and pervasive social inequality.

These shortcomings reflect the distorted values underlying our priorities. For example, we demand the most from “essential workers” (including nurses, supermarket workers, and delivery drivers) while paying them the least. Without fundamental change, climate change will worsen such problems.

The climate crisis is also a public-health crisis. Global warming will cause drinking water to degrade and enable pollution-linked respiratory diseases to thrive. According to some projections, 3.5 billion people globally will live in unbearable heat by 2070.

Addressing this triple crisis requires reorienting corporate governance, finance, policy, and energy systems toward a green economic transformation. To achieve this, three obstacles must be removed: business that is shareholder-driven instead of stakeholder-driven, finance that is used in inadequate and inappropriate ways, and government that is based on outdated economic thinking and faulty assumptions.

Corporate governance must now reflect stakeholders’ needs instead of shareholders’ whims. Building an inclusive, sustainable economy depends on productive cooperation among the public and private sectors and civil society. This means firms need to listen to trade unions and workers’ collectives, community groups, consumer advocates, and others.

Likewise, government assistance to business must be less about subsidies, guarantees, and bailouts, and more about building partnerships. This means attaching strict conditions to any corporate bailouts to ensure that taxpayer money is put to productive use and generates long-term public value, not short-term private profits.

The writer is a Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London.

The views expressed in this article are of the writer.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

Subscribe to The New Times E-Paper


For news tips and story ideas please WhatsApp +250 788 310 999    

 

Follow The New Times on Google News