Navigating COVID-19 as a climate change professional

1st June 2020

Web p9 covid 19 shutterstock 1669328053

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Health ,
  • Biodiversity ,
  • Policy


Tannith Cattermole

As with most climate change professionals, this is not just a job for me. I care deeply about planetary health for people and ecosystems, today and in the future.

To work on such a 'wicked problem' is motivating and frustrating. Solutions seem within our grasp, but people are distracted by legitimate and sometimes frivolous activities and thoughts.

Many in the profession have been wondering about COVID-19's implications for climate change. What will the impact on emissions be? Should I celebrate the breathing space Mother Nature has been given? Is my work plan still relevant? How can the recovery be 'green'? Will resilience to the COVID-19 shock build resilience to climate shocks? These and similar questions present a challenge to our collective efforts.

The climate news and blogosphere are full of information to help us navigate these questions. Sadly, 'fake news' does not seem to be socially distancing itself, so readers need to maintain a discerning eye. Make sure you understand the source and stick with science. One COVID-19 silver lining is that society's value of science is greater than ever. This should reinforce the message that urgent climate action is required.

While science-based, economic and financial arguments are necessary, they are not sufficient on their own. Climate professionals need to connect emotionally with audiences. At the time of writing, COVID-19 is the second biggest killer in 2020 after pulmonary disease; we cannot be tone deaf to the shock it has brought, even though emissions have fallen and are annually in line with what is needed to stabilise the climate. COVID-19 is the way the climate should be stabilised, and is not enough to solve the challenge. While we should analyse and report on changes in emissions (and they are not going down for every sector), we need to be sensitive when it comes to why emissions are changing.

I've found the IEMA Code of Practice useful. This guides professionals to: advocate and apply high ethical standards, acting with integrity, honesty and objectivity; ensure equality of opportunity and respect diversity; and uphold the reputation of the profession. We are ambassadors and we need to expand the solutions to those less interested or able. In many ways, this challenge just got harder. However, COVID-19 has shown the potential of urgent collective, global action. So many facets of modern life have been reimagined. Creativity is blooming, and acts of collective compassion abound – from impromptu balcony operas in Italy to the protection of great apes in Africa and applause for care workers everywhere. We are witnessing some of the best of humankind.

This brings me to my last point: optimism. A healthy planet with a stable climate is the biggest opportunity in history to improve people's lives. Solar power and LEDs can reach millions who have no reliable access to energy or light. Electrified transport can rid our streets of air pollution. Retrofitted buildings are more efficient, smart and comfortable. Nature can be woven into urban planning to reduce floods and heatwaves, and boost mental health. Everywhere we look, there is money to be made or saved from climate action. We need to sell that.

Staying focused on the day job while navigating COVID-19 is no small task, but with science, standards, collective creative action and optimism, we can do it.

Dan Hamza-Goodacre, FIEMA CEnv, COP26 Climate Champions Team member and steering group member for IEMA's Climate Change Network

Picture credit: Shutterstock


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

UK public wants more involvement in planning process, IEMA research finds

Three in five British adults want more public involvement in the planning system, which could be at odds with Labour’s plans to boost economic growth, IEMA research has found.

3rd July 2024

Read more

Ahead of the UK general election next month, IEMA has analysed the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Green Party manifestos in relation to the sustainability agenda.

19th June 2024

Read more

Disinformation about the impossibility of averting the climate crisis is part of an alarming turn in denialist tactics, writes David Burrows

6th June 2024

Read more

Rivers and waterways across England and Wales are increasingly polluted by sewage spills. What is causing the crisis and what is being done to tackle it? Huw Morris reports

31st May 2024

Read more

IEMA submits response to the Future Homes Standard consultation

31st May 2024

Read more

In January, the Welsh government consulted on a proposed white paper, 'Securing a Sustainable Future: Environmental Principles, Governance and Biodiversity Targets for a Greener Wales'.

31st May 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close