Lockdown #7

April 28th, 2020

Tackling climate change must be woven into the solution to the Covid19 economic crisis – hear, hear!

Heartening news is that at this very moment, government ministers are discussing how to make that ambition a reality. (They are predominantly meeting online, of course…)

Germany has organised The Petersberg Climate Dialogue every spring since the failure of the Copenhagen Summit in 2009.

This year’s event is co-chaired by Alok Sharma – UK minister for business, energy and industrial strategy; and president of COP26 (which is still without a specific date in 2021..). 

I’ve written to him after reading his opening speech – it doesn’t mention oil…

The ‘dialogue’ brings together about 30 ministers, including from China, India and Japan, as well as representatives of small island states particularly hard hit by climate change.

For the first time, there will also be an exchange with private companies, trade unions, NGOs, scientific experts and cities.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is there – he has warned that climate change is a deeper problem than the virus.

Germany’s Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said in her opening speech: “The question of how the international community organises restarting the economy is crucial for climate protection.

“Unlike the coronavirus, we already know the vaccines against the climate crisis. They are available, affordable and make our lives better.”

Another pleasant surprise from our government (?!…) is transport minister Grant Shapps’ statement: “Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network”….Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that this statement was made a whole month ago (early days of lockdown) – are people going to be worried about contagion on public transport once we’re ‘let out’, meaning they feel safer in their cars? And where is the evidence of radical investment in new public transport networks? (other than HS2…)

I’ve written to Grant Shapps, asking such questions, too.

From a personal point of view, I haven’t been on a road (other than walking) since the beginning of lockdown. It makes me very happy to imagine traffic at 1950s levels (when I was a baby!) or as if every day is Christmas Day. People drive along our country lane a surprising amount, however…

Anyway, I’d love to believe the AA’s assessment that the aftermath of the Covid19 crisis will transform the way we live, work and travel in the UK. It predicts a permanent reduction in the demand for travel because people have learned during the crisis to use home-working technology.

The chancellor currently plans to spend £27bn to curb congestion on roads and £100bn on HS2 – but if demand falls, that may not be needed….

The AA’s president Edmund King added: “Arguably in future, we should invest more in broadband instead.”

BUT, as Andrew Adonis (the government’s former infrastructure tsar) said: “Lots of people are working out how to use Skype and Zoom – but on the other hand, other people can’t wait to get back to the office.

“I’m sceptical whether travel demand will drop sufficiently to counteract population growth in the UK.”

More people generally equals more travel….

I’ll end with some more specific happy news: in Florida endangered sea turtles are thriving thanks to Covid19 restrictions – researchers are seeing an increase in nests as humans and harmful waste are kept off beaches.

And Milan has announced an ambitious scheme to reduce car use after lockdown – I hope Grant Shapps will consult the Milanese….!

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