Covid-19 'no excuse to forget about climate change'

19 Oct 20

Public bodies must not forget about climate change as they deal with the fallout of the pandemic, the Public Finance Live conference has been told.

 

Alix Bedford, risk proposition manager at insurance company Zurich, said Covid-19 has provided the public sector with a “massive opportunity to reflect”, adding that it has reinforced the need to focus on the issues that predate the pandemic, such as climate.

Many local authorities and governments have declared climate emergencies, but although responding to the coronavirus has taken up most of their attention for the past eight months or so, Bedford stressed that environmental issues have not gone away.

“This isn’t a new risk, but it’s striking harder than many expected,” she said.

Natural disasters such as heatwaves, wildfires and droughts, which threaten lives as well as assets and supplies of necessities such as food, are becoming more frequent and more intense.

In recent years, threats from climate change have been steadily climbing insurers’ risk lists, and Bedford said that Covid-19 must not allow them to fall back down compared to the more short-term (in relation to climate change) economic risks.

Bedford said organisations should identify the risks climate change poses to them specifically, and ensure plans are not only fit for the situation now but future proof for the years to come.

She said proactive investment in climate resilience can be five times cheaper than reactive measures taken in the future.

Climate change strategies should also consider procurement, in terms of whether the partner organisations are able to help the public body meet its climate goals, Bedford said, adding that it could also be important to consider whether procurement is necessary in the first place.

“It’s not always about doing things differently, but it can be about doing different things,” she said.

Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment chief executive Sarah Mukherjee said she had been “quite encouraged” by how seriously the public sector is taking climate, on a local and national level in the UK and internationally.

“In terms of action to take, the best thing to do is to plan, to make sure they have the understanding to process some of this very complex stuff, and incorporate it into their work,” she said.

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