In 2021, governments will be wrestling with the economic downturn caused by Covid-19 and they will face significant pressure to include in their recovery plans measures to reduce the rate of global warming.
An Ipsos poll conducted in April 2020 found that 71 per cent of people surveyed across 14 mostly affluent countries felt that climate change was as serious a crisis as the pandemic. Research by my own company, Bulb, has shown that more than a third of the UK public lived more sustainably during the lockdown.
The challenge for 2021 will be to ensure that support for climate-friendly policies continues to grow and that intentions are transformed into long-term actions. Ipsos also found that, despite their stated concern about the environment, people were on the whole no more likely to make changes to their own environmental behaviours than when they were last polled in 2014. And only a quarter of the people we spoke to intended to continue their new, eco-friendly habits as we move into a post-Covid world.
Governments will have a key role in turning this situation around and ensuring more people make more sustainable choices. It won’t be easy during an economic recession, but I am optimistic we will make significant strides in this direction. In the UK, the Council for Sustainable Business – established in June 2020 and with which I’m involved – created a series of 14 commitments for British businesses to sign up to, covering topics such as reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and increased support for biodiversity. We’ve already seen many businesses stand behind these pledges.
The dynamics of the energy market itself can also make a difference. In the past five years, the proportion of UK consumers choosing a renewable tariff has risen from one per cent to more than ten. And that demand has forced providers to generate more renewable energy. For the first time in 2020, renewable power contributed a bigger share – about 40 per cent – of the European generation mix than fossil fuels, which provided 34 per cent. And the UK went coal-free for a record two months in 2020.
There were many reasons for this, not least the reduction in energy demand caused by the pandemic, but it has provided us with a glimpse of what a truly climate-friendly energy market could look like. And developing that market offers economies a huge opportunity to innovate and become world leaders in cleantech.
I am confident that, in 2021, public pressure will force governments and businesses into committing to and enacting more sustainable policies, not only in the energy sector, but in all aspects of the way we use the planet’s resources. The delayed 26th UN conference on climate change, or COP26, will be held in Glasgow in 2021 and will reignite the conversation. The climate crisis is a reality – but addressing it could also fuel our economic recovery.
Hayden Wood is CEO of Bulb