In recent months, some media outlets have used the black swan image in their headlines to refer to the COVID-19 pandemic affecting most of the world. This is a metaphor for an extremely rare, completely unforeseen event with an enormous impact.
The grey rhinoceros metaphor
However, many experts believe there is a more appropriate metaphor to describe the spread of the coronavirus. For them, this crisis is a "grey rhino", that is, a highly probable yet neglected threat with a huge impact. The term was coined in the aftermath of the Greek financial crisis by political analyst Michele Wucker. The grey rhino is described as an obvious, visible event, with highly probable, direct consequences.
This health crisis, which has led to an economic crisis, has all the defining characteristics of the grey rhino. But it also shares these characteristics with the other great crisis affecting the planet: the climate emergency, which continues apace. Hence the urgent need to face it without delay and to accelerate climate change mitigation plans.
Addressing the post-COVID-19 and climate crises simultaneously
With the COVID-19 pandemic leading the economy towards another potential recession, governments and private enterprise are looking for ways to revitalise the economy and boost job creation. In this context of preparation, a number of reputable financial reports point out that the measures for dealing with this health crisis are the same as those needed for the climate crisis.
Insurance and stock market data is telling. Climate-related natural disasters cost the world USD 150 billion in 2019, a figure forecast to grow in the next decade.
It is crucial to synchronise climate objectives with those of post-COVID-19 recovery. Failure to do so will see us working to alleviate yesterday's problems with yesterday's tools rather than tomorrow's. Let's look at some of the potential key pillars to achieving a sustainable economic recovery that also invests in the planet.
Renewable energies, a lever for recovery
According to a recent IRENA report, a worldwide investment in renewable energy could be a very profitable stimulus for economic reconstruction while helping reduce emissions and combat the climate crisis.
Under the most ambitious scenario in the report, positive externalities for health and the environment would be up to eight times higher than the additional cost generated. Moreover, this investment in clean energy would bring GDP gains of USD 98 trillion and job numbers would quadruple.
Invest in sustainable mobility, invest in the future
Clean transport is another sector that could have great economic and environmental benefits for the planet. Investing in clean mobility systems would create employment, generate long-term savings and cut emissions.
APTA, the American Public Transportation Association, forecasts that every dollar invested in sustainable mobility would generate a profit of USD 4 in the community.
Other sectors with a key role
But these aren't the only sectors that can play a decisive role in the post-COVID-19 recovery. Within the energy sector, adapting buildings to an efficient energy model could also give employment generation a huge boost.
Elsewhere, investment in education, training and R&D for sustainable projects, and the development of circular economy projects, are avenues with a lot of potential to address economic and climate challenges.
This is a historic opportunity to move towardS decarbonised industry, as the decisions made now will shape the global economy in the decades to come.