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Edinburgh Climate Commission: “Back to normal” will not be good enough once Covid-19 crisis has passed

Posted: 23rd April 2020

The Chair of the new Edinburgh Climate Commission has set out how the current coronavirus crisis has thrown the longer-term climate emergency into sharp focus.

Writing in the Edinburgh Evening News  – on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day – Dr Sam Gardner outlines the additional challenges – and opportunities – facing the Capital as we work to both grapple with the impacts of the ongoing pandemic and plot a route to recovery which takes the city forward rather than backwards.

City of Edinburgh Council Leader Adam McVey and Depute Leader Cammy Day have welcomed Dr Gardner’s feedback from the Edinburgh Climate Commission’s inaugural meeting, which was held remotely last week after the Commission was established earlier this year.

Cllr McVey said: 

All cities are facing greater challenges now than at any other time in living memory, and Edinburgh’s no different. While the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect all our lives in so many ways, we’re all still persevering through the changes we’ve all had to make to our daily lives. At the same time, the need to focus on the climate emergency facing the planet remains. There have been changes necessitated by the drive to limit the spread of the virus, such as more home-working and greater uptake of active travel for daily exercise which many will want to continue with as part of their routines as restrictions are relaxed and lifted in future. Many of these changes point to a more sustainable way of living which can, if sustained, significantly contribute to our effort to reduce climate emissions. We are working to identify and harness opportunities to help our City and economy recover sustainably, putting our communities’ wellbeing at the very heart of everything we do. There’s a difficult road ahead of us, undoubtedly, but by pulling together and building on our strengths, Edinburgh can recover.

Cllr Day said:

Climate change is a looming crisis that will dwarf even the extremely difficult situation we find ourselves in now, and it isn’t going away. I welcome Dr Gardner’s clearly expressed views on how the Edinburgh Climate Commission can respond to the ongoing global challenge of coronavirus in a way that builds on the positive lessons we’ve collectively learned from the lockdown, in terms of thinking and acting locally and being more connected – albeit digitally for now – with our neighbours and communities. People are responding to the crisis incredibly well in this great city and it’s been so encouraging to see the vast majority sticking to the guidance for the benefit of the whole population. We’ll need to channel that same collective drive and positivity for the very real economic, social and environmental challenges that lie ahead, and I’m confident we’ll do so.

 Dr Gardner’s full article is below:

As the world is rocked by a global pandemic it seems counter-intuitive to turn to the crisis of climate change as a source of hope and purpose. And yet, building a better future, the resilient, fairer future that the response to climate change demands of us all, remains an imperative that must guide us as we emerge from COVID-19.  

Right now we remain in the eye of this crisis and every effort must be made to protect people and help the most vulnerable.  However, we must plan for the city’s recovery and look to rebuild our lives and the economy and in doing so, we must make sure we build a better future . Back to normal will not be good enough.

 It is with this focus on building back to a better future that the Edinburgh Climate Commission met for the very first time last week.

 The Commission brings together climate expertise and experience from key sectors and includes community, civic society, business, youth and academic voices that have all committed to work together to help ensure Edinburgh leads the response to the climate crisis.  We must not lose sight of this goal or we risk stumbling from a crisis measured in days, weeks and months to one that will span decades and generations.

 In fixing a city wide target of ending our contribution to climate change by 2030 Edinburgh has set itself a stretching ambition.  We must now turn high ambition into transformational action backed by communities and business from across the city. 

 We know that without significantly ramping up action our climate change we will not only still be contributing to runaway climate change but will have failed to realise the many benefits to public health, community resilience, job creation and the local economy that the net zero journey offers us. 

 In the last month businesses travel patterns have probably shifted for good; months of effective digital remote working is surely going to change habits and must mean we don’t just walk away from online technology and back to red eye flights or expensive commuting habits.  Let’s lock in the surge in active travel we have seen in recent weeks so when our options for moving around the city increase the short walk or family bike ride on safe streets is still the number one choice. 

 These are just examples of changes our collective response to a global crisis has shown is possible, and in a timescale we thought was unimaginable. Others include building community resilience, the importance of local businesses, our dependence on food supply, and valuing wellbeing alongside economic growth. It is up to us all – businesses, individuals and communities – to ensure these changes which support a fairer, greener and stronger economy are embedded in our collective future.

 The Edinburgh Climate Commission will be an independent voice for climate action, rooted in the needs of families and communities across Edinburgh as we look to ensure we don’t move backwards as we come out of this crisis.

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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