COVID-19 and climate concerns are increasingly converging

Alex Cole
Published by Alex Cole
Former Chief Sustainability and Corporate Affairs Officer

11 November 2020 . International

This week’s Green Horizon Summit #GHS2020 on the role of finance in addressing climate change is needed now more than ever.

It was also great to see this week the latest move from the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announcing the UK’s intention to mandate climate disclosures by large companies and financial institutions, going further than recommended by the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.

In the face of coronavirus, climate change was temporarily superseded by the immediate challenges of COVID-19, but the blunt reality is that both are health emergencies and need to be tackled together.

As a healthcare company, the wellbeing of people is Bupa’s number one priority. Our organisation’s purpose is long-standing: to help people live longer, healthier, happier lives. And healthy, happy people need a healthy, happy planet. Sustainability is - and has to be - our concern.

And there is growing evidence of links between health and the climate emergency. The World Health Organisation has described climate change as “the defining health challenge of our time”. The data points to irreversible damage to the future health of our planet and its people if we fail in our responsibility to act now.

Without swift action, we risk worsening the harmful effects of climate change, air pollution, deforestation and loss of biodiversity on physical health. We also run the danger of intensifying the mental health crisis for those who live through the trauma caused by extreme weather events, as one example. We saw this with the bushfires in Australia. And of course, COVID-19 is adding to this.

COVID-19 and climate considerations are increasingly converging. From the disaster of the pandemic comes the opportunity to ‘build back better’. We are all valuing our health more than ever. And the value of nature is also more sharply in focus.

Humans need nature to survive and thrive; we rely on well-functioning ecosystems to limit disease transmission and to provide clean air, fresh water, medicines and food security. We need green space. As we take our socialising and exercising out into the open-air, we’re discovering that biodiversity is a human need at a fundamental level.

It’s something for us all to think about on a personal level. We can all, as individuals, make positive choices for the health of the planet.

Our response at Bupa has three tenets: to reduce our own environmental impact as much as possible; to protect the natural environment; and to care for the health of our ecosystem and peoples’ health.

We’re closely managing our environmental impact and actively promoting positive environmental practices. This includes reducing our carbon footprint by increasing our use of renewables and promoting efficiency. We’re also looking into the health aspects of climate change. We don’t have all the solutions, but it’s clear that protecting our planet needs to be at the centre of everyone’s thinking about health. As a society, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

In the starkest way possible, this pandemic is telling us that we cannot take the benefits of a healthy environment for granted. There is a fragile interdependency between our communities, a fragility that does not respect individuals or borders. And it’s also revealed that we can come together in new and more ambitious ways, tackling issues with ingenuity, resilience and compassion. This is the new mindset we must now bring to climate action.

Alex Cole

Alex Cole

Former Chief Sustainability and Corporate Affairs Officer