The following was written by Helena from EarthbyHelena, edited and shared here with her permission.
Demanding a better world in the wake of COVID-19 is not an easy task and not an easy thing for an individual to do. If COVID-19 is a crystal ball into our climate change-riddled future, then structural and societal changes are needed ASAP.
An email to your MP might not change the world, but it could chip away at the task ever so slightly. If even one of the issues mentioned here is taken forward to a discussion in Parliament it would be a success.
The email I have drafted below highlights topics that I believe to be of the utmost importance when we think about a post-corona world, environmentally speaking. I haven’t mentioned the NHS, education or welfare, as I know these topics will already be on the minds of many diligent MPs and campaigners going forward. The issues here are slightly more nuanced but vital nonetheless.
The main things I am asking for, based on learnings from COVID-19:
1) Review and update response efforts to climate change in line with science-based policy recommendations
2) Assess the benefits of air pollution reduction during the COVID-19 outbreak to inform future air quality policies
3) Assess the effective protection of society’s most vulnerable to climate change through COVID-19 learnings
4) Financial aid should only be given in exchange for low carbon-commitments
5) Economic responses to COVID-19 must be ‘green’
There are about 100 other things I could have written about (I took many out) but these are the ones I think hit home hardest. You can, of course, tailor the email as much as you would like.
You can find your local MP here to look at a record of their voting history, or use the government’s tool which provides contact details for all MPs. Once you find their email address, here is the template Helena created for anyone to use:
I hope this email finds you well and safe in these uncertain times.
I am writing to you to discuss some actions I would like you to take as my MP with regards to a post-COVID19 response effort. I’m sure you are currently inundated with important tasks, however, I implore you to consider the following issues which I believe to be vital to recovering from this crisis. These issues pertain to various aspects of society however focus primarily on environmental issues.
(i) REVIEW AND UPDATE RESPONSE EFFORTS TO CLIMATE CHANGE IN LINE WITH SCIENCE-BASED POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
There is an opportunity to reassess how responses to international crises are formulated based on the successes and failures of the response to COVID-19. There has been international failure to take seriously the warnings about the virus that were put forward by the scientific community; the downplaying of the virus exhibited by many world leaders is typical of the reaction also exhibited when confronted with warnings about climate change. Immediate reassessment of the UK’s climate change policy is required to ensure alignment with science-based climate change policy as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). In addition, the precautionary principle should be upheld in any instances where there is insufficient scientific evidence in line with IPCC and CCC recommendations.
(ii) ASSESS THE BENEFITS OF AIR POLLUTION REDUCTION DURING THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK TO INFORM FUTURE AIR QUALITY POLICIES
A recent study suggests that the lockdown initiated by COVID-19 in China may have saved up to 77,000 lives due to lower levels of air pollution. Although this research is novel and not yet peer-reviewed, estimates were made conservatively and the author, Burke, estimates actual figures are higher than 77,000. Burke comments that this is a “useful reminder of the often-hidden health consequences of the status-quo”. Given London’s air pollution levels are above the WHO’s guidelines and responsible for 9,500 deaths every year, there is a strong argument that air quality policies should be reassessed. Analysis should be conducted into the reduction in air pollution levels across the UK and assess the number of lives saved through lower pollution levels. This analysis should be used to create new policies around air pollution in line with levels experienced during the COVID-19 outbreak to prevent further deaths from air pollution.
(iii) ASSESS THE EFFECTIVE PROTECTION OF SOCIETY’S MOST VULNERABLE TO CLIMATE CHANGE THROUGH COVID-19 LEARNINGS
The outbreak of COVID-19 has shown that the most vulnerable in society are at risk from its indirect impacts in the same way that society’s most vulnerable are at higher risk to the indirect impacts of climate change. Those primarily affected include people without secure housing, with addictions to illegal or harmful substances, and those on low wages; the closure of support services and community facilities have a large impact on those already struggling. Future climate policies should safeguard and protect those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in a way which has not been considered during this pandemic. The Government must create new policies and legislation which explicitly protects those most vulnerable to the indirect impacts of climate change. This legislation should include specific funds during natural disasters bought on by climate change; access social and financial support systems; and confirmed access to safe housing or shelter.
(iv) FINANCIAL AID SHOULD ONLY BE GIVEN IN EXCHANGE FOR LOW-CARBON COMMITMENTS
Since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, the Government have continued to invest in both fossil fuels and aviation; two highly polluting industries who have not yet made significant steps to meet the 1.5oC target. Since the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdowns, both industries have suffered financially, with airlines such as Virgin requesting Government bailouts for their losses. If decisions are made without environmental consideration, they could lock the world into a high-carbon future and continue with the business-as-usual trajectory that is threatening the future of the planet. I suggest that Government bailouts are available for airlines in exchange for strict low-carbon commitments in line with the Paris Agreement. I suggest a similar initiative is adopted in the UK if airlines or highly polluting industries are to be given financial aid. This should also apply to cruise lines and fossil fuel companies which are requesting economic aid.
(v) ECONOMIC RESPONSES TO COVID-19 MUST BE ‘GREEN’
Current economic behaviours indicate the UK will not meet its commitments made towards the Paris Agreement. Steps should be taken in the aftermath of the pandemic to realign the economy with climate goals. The CEO of the CCC suggests that ‘green stimulus’ could be the answer, with ‘green gilts’ given to target projects which actively contribute to the aspiration to bring greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero. I suggest promoting green gilts which target programmes and research in line with the UK’s net-zero carbon target, such as green infrastructure and renewable energy.
I urge you to please consider taking forward these suggestions to a formal discussion in Parliament, physically or virtually, when the time is ripe and appropriate. I have no doubt there will be countless enquiries and policy changes following on from the Coronavirus pandemic and I hope that the environmental aspects of this crisis will not be passed over.
For those interested in learning more, Helena put together this email from a paper she worked on for her master’s degree in Environmental Policy. Below is the bibliography from said paper, in case you’d like to look into anything mentioned here.
Carrington, 2019: UK has biggest fossil fuel subsidies in the EU
Carrington, 2020: Coronavirus: ‘Nature is sending us a message’ says UN environment chief
Denning, B., 2020: COVID-19 closures having bigger impact on most vulnerable, says women’s society head
Goldenberg, S., 2014: Climate Change: the poor will suffer most
Harvey, 2020: Covid-19 economic rescue plans must be green, say environmentalists
Ito, 2017: Nature’s rights: a new paradigm for environmental protection
IPCC, 2018: Summary for Policymakers
Jones, 2020: UK airlines call for multibillion bailout to survive Covid-19 crisis
McMahon, J., 2020: Coronavirus Lockdown Likely Saved 77,000 Lives In China Just By Reducing Pollution
Mellen, 2020: 5 ways coronavirus could help humanity survive the ecological crisis
Oge, M., 2020: The Coronavirus Pandemic Shows us the importance of combatting climate change
Quammen, D., 2020: We made the Coronavirus epidemic
Reuters, 2020: As Europe fights coronavirus and climate, is ‘green stimulus’ the way?
Taylor, M., 2017: Every Londoner breathing dangerous levels of toxic air particle
UNEP, 2020: Coronavirus outbreak highlights need to address threats to ecosystems and wildlife
Vaughan, 2015: Nearly 9,500 people die each year in London because of air pollution
Vidal, J., 2020: Tip of the iceberg: is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?