The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic provides unexpected lessons, commonalities and intersections with climate change.
It is well documented that climate change acts as a threat multiplier for other global challenges. However, it is recognised by the World Health Organisation that climate change can contribute to the potential for pandemics and other health conditions, and academic papers have analysed how changes in weather and ecology due to climate change can contribute to the potential for pandemics. Supply chain risks are common to both pandemics and extreme weather events, with both acting as disrupters to the usual production and distribution of goods and labour.
For many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the gaps in their business continuity plans, with some industries finding overnight that their business is unable to function with changes in supply chains, or bans on large public gatherings, brought on by the pandemic. This provides important lessons for all industries on the significance of having appropriate business interruption insurances, contingency plans, and flexible arrangements.
The Carbon Market Institute has further called on government post-virus economic repair plans to be integrated with other land and climate repair plans, recognising that all three issues require dedicated planning to give businesses and workers certainty on the road ahead.
Anticipating and grappling with these risks raises a number of legal and liability issues for businesses to consider into the future:
- Is the business managing and disclosing these risks?
- Are directors fulfilling their duties to manage these risks?
- Are employees being exposed to safety and health risks?
- Are customers being exposed to safety and health risks?
- Does my business have an integrated incident response plan able to respond to environmental, safety, or health incidents?
She then dug into research showing the ways that climate change can exacerbate the risks associated with viruses and diseases like influenza in general. You might think warmer winters could help, since flu seasons tend to be milder in warmer winters. But, she said, a milder season makes people less inclined to get vaccinated for the next season. The next season may start earlier and be tougher, and great suffering would result. And, she cited research suggesting that a warmer climate might dampen immune response. She also looked to a deeper connection between climate change and disease: When we burn fossil fuels for energy, in addition to releasing greenhouse gases, we’re adding pollution to the air. And research has shown that air pollution kills. A study published this month suggests that air pollution is responsible for 8.8 million deaths each year. Even worse, air pollution makes people more susceptible to respiratory illness. A look at the SARS epidemic in China in the past found that patients from regions with high air pollution were “twice as likely to die from SARS” compared to patients form regions with cleaner air. Thus, Dr. Hahyoe said, climate change is a “threat multiplier” that makes many of our problems worse.