Do you remember what you did the day you first heard about the coronavirus? It seemed like distant, unrealistic and not very important news for your life. And do you remember what you did on the last day, before the epidemic was declared in Serbia? What did normal life look like before the coronavirus? And what did you do after the virus entered our country? Your life has changed radically. Now you are waiting for the pandemic to pass, for us to gain immunity, for them to produce a vaccine… so that your life returns to normal. Climate change, like the coronavirus pandemic, is a global threat. But, unlike a pandemic, there is no vaccine against climate change and a return to normal is unlikely.

Climate and coronavirus, what do they have in common?

No matter how terrible the consequences of the pandemic were, with almost 9 million cases and 465,000 deaths, it brought us an unexpected opportunity. For the first time, we could see what life looks like when everything we take for granted disappears: family gatherings, free movement, getting out of the house, traveling, planning for the next month or vacation. Our lives have become unpredictable.

The pandemic briefly showed us what life on Earth would look like if we failed to reach the goals of the global Paris Agreement and keep the planet warming below 2'C by the end of this century.

The changed climatic conditions will create conditions for more frequent pandemics. Climate change changes natural habitats, the patterns of movement of species that transmit infectious diseases, and their interactions with other species, which increases the likelihood of the virus passing from one species to another. Just as happened with SARS-CoV-2.

We can already see these phenomena today, even in our country. For example, the appearance of tiger mosquitoes and West Nile virus in our country used to be unthinkable. Today, this and many other tropical diseases are present in Serbia and on the European continent. Climate change will create the conditions for the chain consequences of crises that will occur after the outbreak of pandemics.

We are witnessing a strong impact of the current pandemic on the global economy. However, the recovery will also be hampered by the extreme weather conditions we have witnessed in the last decade: unprecedented hot flashes in Europe and even in its north, huge fires that occur from Australia to Siberia, more frequent floods and droughts, hurricanes. All these extreme weather conditions will slow down the economic recovery. And in some countries to make it even impossible.

The World Bank already estimates that between 40 and 60 million people will be pushed below the extreme poverty line due to the pandemic. Economies are expected to be in deficit of more than 30 billion dollars by 2023. And all these are the consequences of only one crisis, during one year. Climate change has the potential to cause such chain crises, over a number of years, as scientists warn us. If we do not achieve the goals of the global Paris Agreement, the economic and health consequences of the changed climatic conditions will be huge.

The links between climate change and the pandemic are as complex as these phenomena. Factors that cause climate change (burning of fossil fuels, which also causes air pollution) are related to the severity of the outcome of coronavirus infection. Recent research has shown that the consequences of a pandemic are much more severe in areas where the air is polluted.

So, pandemic or decarbonization?

The pandemic caught the world at a time when global negotiations on the implementation of the Paris Agreement were becoming increasingly uncertain. Massive climate strikes around the world and growing public pressure have led countries to increase their ambition to reduce emissions. 2020 should have been crucial for the decarbonization of the global economy.

As the backbone of its mandate, the new European Commission presented to the world the European Green Deal - the main development strategy of the EU which will turn the European continent into the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, and bring new jobs and quality, prosperous and safe life to EU citizens.

And then a pandemic happened. And its violent blow to the economy.

Governments around the world have enacted urgent packages of measures to support and recover the economy. The European Commission presented the recovery plan, as a continuation of the policies set out in the European Green Deal. This plan, worth 1,150 billion euros, should enable the EU to develop economy through green transition and digitalization.

Although many environmental organizations warn that the commitment of 25% of the presented budget for climate action is insufficient, the presented plan is a step in the right direction since economic development is based on the circular economy, energy transition, green business development and climate neutrality.

Apart from the EU, many other countries around the planet are turning to recovery from the current crisis, which will be based on decarbonization and green policies. The International Energy Agency presented a proposal for a sustainable recovery, which will enable countries to develop economically with decarbonization. The proposal shows that the current moment is a unique opportunity for governments around the world to accelerate economic growth, create millions of new jobs while reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, showing that decarbonization is the way to recovery from a pandemic.

Decarbonization in the neighborhood

As the EU and the rest of the world move towards climate neutrality, decarbonization in the region takes many forms.

Northern Macedonia is the first country in the region to announce the abandonment of coal energy production by 2030. Montenegro has abandoned plans to build a new Pljevlja II thermal power plant. Greece and Hungary have made plans to abandon coal by 2028 and 2030, respectively. Croatia and Romania abandoned plans to build new coal-fired power plants several years ago. In Slovenia, the construction of the last thermal power plant Šoštanj 6 was accompanied by corruption and economic unsustainability. All around us, countries are developing resilient energy systems and abandoning outdated technologies.

Only Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina continue to plan the construction of new coal-fired power plants, which will tie their economies to fossil fuels for at least another 40 years.

At the beginning of the year, Serbia adopted a negotiating position for Chapter 27 and set its key strategic priorities in environmental protection and the fight against climate change. Undoubtedly, it is the adoption of the climate law and the adoption of the Low Carbon Development Strategy. However, neither of these two documents was adopted, after several years of delay.

The economic situation of the countries of the Western Balkans was unfavorable even before the crisis caused by the pandemic. It should be noted that the consequences of the crisis will be at least comparable to the consequences of the global economic crisis of 2008. Given the changes in regional, European and global energy policy and the obvious need to combat climate change and adapt to its consequences, it may be time to ask should we base our future on the energy policy that was designed in the last century? Or should we accept the reality and see decarbonization in the recovery time from the pandemic as a chance to build a resilient, sustainable, healthy society?

"The current opportunity is probably the last. In the coming months and years, the economy will be flooded with state aid, which should mitigate the consequences of the current crisis. This assistance should be focused on the development of low-carbon technologies, instead of maintaining outdated coal-based technologies," said the director of the Energy Community Secretariat, Janez Kopac.

Is there any hope for this world?

A global pandemic caused by the new coronavirus has posed an unrivaled challenge to the world. The reaction had to be quick, as the virus invaded the planet, imprisoned over three billion people and, for the first time since World War II, stopped the world for more than two months. The measures have stopped the global economy and endangered tens of millions of people around the world. Just six months ago, this was impossible to imagine.

However, this crisis has given us the opportunity to learn that it is possible to act quickly when we recognize clearly and without hesitation that we are in danger. The pandemic and the halting of the economy led to a drop in greenhouse gas emissions of almost 5.5%. However, if we want to prevent further climate change, global emissions must fall even more, averaging about 7.6% per year. This shows the magnitude of the global effort needed to prevent irreversible climate change. But at the same time, it shows that such efforts are possible.

In terms of decarbonization, science is clear, the danger of climate change is there, and we only have ten years to mitigate its consequences. What distinguishes the climate crisis, which will occur if we exceed that threshold of 2C, from the crisis caused by the pandemic, is that - there is no vaccine.

Once we cross that threshold, a return to a normal lifestyle will no longer be possible. The crisis will be a new reality for society, and it will consist of droughts, fires, pandemics, water shortages, struggle for resources, lack of food, extinction of the living world and the collapse of the global ecosystem and the economy that depends on that ecosystem.

The pandemic has shown us that global, unified action is possible. Economic recovery from the current pandemic is a unique opportunity to decarbonize and develop a resilient, sustainable society, and the next decade will be crucial to preserving the lives and societies we know today.

Mirjana Jovanović



Photo: A new thermal energy battery stores heat from renewable energy sources. ADOBE PHOTO STOCK - LOVELYDAY12