The year 2020 will be forever remembered as the year of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a pandemic which has cost countless lives, ground the world’s economy to a halt, and brought the world into a new normal.

Yet, Bill Gates, billionaire philanthropist, warns that a bigger crisis could be waiting in the future: that of climate change. In an article he published on his website titled, “COVID-19 is awful. Climate change could be worse”, Mr. Gates outlined the urgent need for governments to address climate change as intensely as they have the pandemic, or else face dire consequences in the future.

“If you want to understand the kind of damage that climate change will inflict, look at COVID-19 and spread the pain out over a much longer period of time. The loss of life and economic misery caused by this pandemic are on par with what will happen regularly if we do not eliminate the world’s carbon emissions,” he wrote.

“As of last week, more than 600,000 people are known to have died from COVID-19 worldwide. On an annualized basis, that is a death rate of 14 per 100,000 people. How does that compare to climate change? Within the next 40 years, increases in global temperatures are projected to raise global mortality rates by the same amount — 14 deaths per 100,000. By the end of the century, if emissions growth stays high, climate change could be responsible for 73 extra deaths per 100,000 people. In a lower emissions scenario, the death rate drops to 10 per 100,000,” he added.

“In other words, by 2060, climate change could be just as deadly as COVID-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly,” he added.

Mr. Gates noted that among the things governments should consider to fight climate change is in finding zero-carbon methods of producing electricity. With universal access to renewable and sustainable energy, many countries would not need to rely on fossil fuels like coal or oil, which produce the greenhouse gases that worsen climate change.

In this, the COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity. The World Economic Forum found that during the full-lockdown measures implemented to cope with the pandemic, electricity demand has declined at historical levels (15%-30%) in many countries, generating an oversupply of available power capacity. “As the crisis hit, grid operators, sought the cheapest (and cleanest) supply source to balance the lower demand. Therefore, weaker electricity demand increased the share of renewables in the system while sending the more polluting and costly carbon fuels to the back of the queue. This effect happened even at a time of historically low fossil fuel prices, making carbon the biggest loser in the pandemic,” the organization published on its website.

In a post-COVID world, there is a real chance for governments and businesses to spur a clean energy revolution.

“As businesses, industry and households focus on restarting their operations, the lockdown provides a real sense of opportunity for the energy sector. It brings plenty of lessons about clean energy policy, changes in demand patterns and knowhow for a greener grid without compromising the security of supply. It also opens further opportunities for investment and innovation,” the World Economic Forum wrote.

“Businesses and investors can play a role in boosting clean investment, both by promoting low-carbon supply chains and by grasping the opportunities of clean energy markets.” It added, “As governments begin to shape new regulations and support businesses for the post-COVID- 19 world, their focus should be on taking stock from the lockdown and promoting green conditions to sustain and effectively manage a higher share of renewables; as well as redirecting investment and increasing innovation for improvements in batteries, storage, digital markets, blockchain and smarter grids.”

It falls to key officials, leaders in both the public and private sectors of society to ensure that this future comes about. Governments, businesses and households need to invest in recovery, innovation and infrastructure opportunities in low-carbon and digital technologies for a cleaner, sustainable future. — Bjorn Biel M. Beltran