Opinion: We don’t need to wait for Covid-19 to be over to plan a better economy

Maya da Souza and Farhana Yamin, "lifestyle changes we have adopted as a result of Covid-19 show how

Maya da Souza and Farhana Yamin, "lifestyle changes we have adopted as a result of Covid-19 show how we can shift towards a low carbon lifestyle." - Credit: Archant


Covid-19 has forced every country in the world to take radical action and enact emergency lockdown legislation to safeguard people’s health.

There has been tragedy and isolation for many families, and many are rightly worried about their finances. But we’ve also shown how quickly we can adapt. Many are rising to the challenges by developing new skills as well as taking time to care for each other by setting up mutual aid groups. We want to use our column this week to reflect on the other global crisis facing us - the climate emergency.

A year ago, we focused on how people power, in the form of protests, forced the UK parliament to declare a national climate and ecological emergency on May 1, leading to outcomes such as a climate action plan to make Camden net zero carbon by 2030. A draft of the 2020-2025 plan outlining priority projects and programs has completed public consultation and is being finalised.

People power isn’t all about protests. People also have the power and imagination to come up with the solutions. For example, Camden Council’s work has been supported by active citizens keen to help reimagine a greener, more inclusive and fairer Camden. In November 2019, a coalition of groups set up a high-street pop up community café at 315 Kentish Town Road called Camden Think & Do. Over 100 events have been held by Think and Do members and projects are under way to reduce car use, rewild our streets and public spaces, and to tackle our throw-away culture, ranging from fast fashion, food waste and single use plastics.

Lockdown is triggering new forms of people power. The lifestyle changes we have adopted as a result of Covid-19 – limiting shopping to essentials, less use of cars and no flying, and greater use of online communications – show how we can shift towards a low carbon lifestyle. People make more use of local shops. Locally sourced, more resilient and less wasteful food and agriculture systems could have a number of benefits.

Covid-19, like climate impacts, is disproportionately harming poor people and more vulnerable sections of our communities, like the elderly, Black and ethnic minorities and those living in highly polluted areas. Social justice and basic fairness mean tackling these threats in a timely way. Bold climate action that would clean up polluted air and bring about cleaner forms of public transport goes hand in hand with having a healthier population. The principles of a just transition for workers, which once seemed fanciful when put forward by climate campaigners, are now being taken up as governments upgrade public health systems.

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Public support for ambitious climate action remains high as people are realizing there are so many synergies between safeguarding our “home”, our planet, and our health. We don’t need to wait for Covid-19 to be “over” to learn lessons about building a better economy than the nature depleting and socially unjust one we lived in before. It is time to ramp up action. We need people to shape how billions of pounds of government money should be spent and what kind of businesses need to be bailed out and on what terms. We need to ensure the trillions that will be spent to stimulate the economy will set us on a path that is healthier and protects both people and our planet.

• Maya de Souza is a former Camden councillor and is chairman of Dartmouth Park Neighbourhood Forum. Farhana Yamin is a climate change lawyer and coordinator of Think & Do Camden. They host Dartmouth Park Talks, a platform for dialogue and discussion on the issues facing our local and global community.