Climate experts say Australia can combat climate change and rebuild the economy as it transitions out of the coronavirus pandemic.
Emissions have reduced dramatically since the world ground to a halt. Flights have been cancelled and fewer cars are on the road as people work from home.
Honorary Associate Professor at ANU’s Fenner School of Environment and Society, Dr Imran Ahmad, says this “global pause” is the time to reassess economic, social and environmental policy.
“This is a great opportunity to reset, and support future economic growth in a more sustainable pathway.”
Dr Ahmad is urging governments and businesses, including airlines, to invest in low-carbon solutions as they rebuild.
“My hope is that countries will use this opportunity to announce greater climate ambitions… and Australia will use green industries like renewables to restore the economy.”
His hopes are echoed by those concerned about the current lack of attention on environmental issues.
A Facebook survey on COVID-19 found 45 out of 52 respondents believe climate issues are being overlooked during the crisis, by both government and the community.
There are also concerns that the coronavirus will disrupt or even lead to a regression in existing climate policy in Australia.
In March, the New South Wales (NSW) government approved an extension for coal mining under one of Greater Sydney’s reservoirs – for the first time in two decades.
The move was criticised by multiple groups including the National Parks Association of NSW and Greenpeace.
Last month, the state government also formally backed a $3.6 billion gas development project, proposed by Santos.
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Writer and environmental activist Tommy Boutros says the government is using the pandemic as a shield to pass legislation which may be harmful to the environment.
“The government is already trying to quietly put legislation through, because they know it won’t touch the news,” he said.
Planet Ark Information Centre Officer Tom Mann, says environmental programs by state and federal governments have been sidelined during the pandemic, but he remains hopeful.
Planet Ark secured a federal grant to shift businesses and communities towards a low-waste “National Circular Economy Hub” last year. They’re still working to complete these initiatives.
Mr Mann also believed the Australian government now has the opportunity to intertwine fiscal and environmental policy.
“Australia is on the cusp of some really important work.”
“[It] could change the way our economic and social systems work within the next few decades”.
The New South Wales Environment Minister was contacted for comment, but did not respond.
— Krishani Dhanji, @KrishaniDhanji