Though the economic and social shutdowns due to COVID-19 in countries across the globe has meant a temporary reprieve from some of the most obvious environmental effects in places from China to Venice, Italy, the world’s nearly singular focus on the pandemic has meant less attention is being paid to climate change.
However, in the long run, efforts to get the coronavirus pandemic under control will facilitate the fight against climate change, according to Bill Gates.
“That idea of innovation and science and the world working together — that is totally common between these two problems, and so I don’t think this has to be a huge set back for climate,” Gates told TED’s Chris Anderson during a livestreamed conversation on March 24.
The cooperation Gates is observing globally in the science community is encouraging, he says.
“In the science side and data sharing side, you see this great cooperation going on,” Gates told Anderson.
Gates, who stepped down from the boards of Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway on March 13 to devote more time to his philanthropic work, announced in February that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation contribute up to $100 million to the global response to COVID-19.
Gates told Anderson he is “very much an optimist” when it comes to what scientists working together can do, including when it comes to the pandemic.
“[T]he amount of innovation, the way we can connect up and work together. Yes, I’m super positive about that,” Gates told Anderson. “I love my work because I see progress on all these diseases all the time. Now we have to turn an focus on this…. but you know the message for me — although it’s very sober when we’re dealing with this epidemic — you know I’m very positive that this should draw us together. We will get out of this and then we will get ready for the next epidemic.”
However not everyone is so sure the global community will apply learnings from the COVID-19 response to climate change.
“COVID-19 may deliver some short-term climate benefits by curbing energy use, or even longer-term benefits if economic stimulus is linked to climate goals — or if people get used to telecommuting and thus use less oil in the future,” said Jason Bordoff, a former U.S. National Security Council senior director and special assistant to President Barack Obama in an op-ed published in Foreign Policy on Friday. “Yet any climate benefits from the COVID-19 crisis are likely to be fleeting and negligible,” he said.
Instead, the issues with keeping the pandemic under control indicate that solving climate change will be virtually impossible. “The pandemic is a reminder of just how wicked a problem climate change is because it requires collective action, public understanding and buy-in, and decarbonizing the energy mix while supporting economic growth and energy use around the world,” said Bordoff, who is now a professor and founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.