Gavin Elliot
Gavin Elliott says that climate change is as dangerous as Covid-19

Virus ‘pushes climate change to back burner’

Dan Whelan

The Government’s fiscal reaction to the coronavirus pandemic proves “the magic money tree has always been there”, Gavin Elliott, head of the BDP Manchester studio believes, and raises the question of why funds were not previously used to tackle climate change.

“It is interesting to compare the approach that people have to climate change and the approach that people have to solving this current dilemma,” he said. 

“Coronavirus is clearly an immediate, urgent crisis that needs to be solved but if you talk to a climate scientist, they would say exactly the same thing about climate change and yet it doesn’t seem to register the same level of Government commitment. 

“If the sums of money that are being necessarily diverted to dealing with Covid-19 were used to insulate homes, swap out gas boilers, electrify the railway lines and put in charging points for electric cars and investing in renewable power, that would probably get us most of the way there but because concerns over climate change are a slow drip rather than a sudden tsunami of panic, it gets ignored.” 

During the global economic downturn over a decade ago, carbon emissions all over the world decreased due to a lull in activity as governments tightened the purse strings and industry slowed. 

But as the world’s economic fortunes turned upwards again and production and construction increased, so too did pollution levels as industries entered into a game of catch-up. 

Elliott fears the same could happen once the coronavirus pandemic is over. 

“The likelihood is that businesses will have varying degrees of stress in terms of cashflow as they manage their way out of this situation, and doing things differently and R&D budgets are probably going to be one of the things they try to reduce.” 

However, Elliott reiterated the message he gave to Manchester’s development community at the BDP Manchester Net Zero Carbon Summit. “Nothing has changed. The early adopters and innovators, and the people that create a new product, will be the people that prosper, and the people who try and cut their way to a better balance sheet probably won’t succeed.” 

Gavin Elliot

Elliott says that Manchester won’t achieve its target for carbon reduction this year

He added that the unprecedented financial measures announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to deal with the virus could have a negative impact on future investment in tackling the climate crisis. 

“Government is currently borrowing money from the banks to deal with Covid-19 and indebtedness is going to go through the roof. So the likelihood of them extending it further to climate change significantly reduces. 

“[Government] will be in a mindset of paying back the money borrowed to deal with one crisis rather than investing to solve another one.” 

For those pinning their hopes to the idea that the current lockdown could help Manchester, which is aims to reduce its carbon emissions by 50% over the next five years, achieve its target of being carbon neutral by 2038, Elliott had another a message. “Perversely, the current situation has helped in some respects but even if we stay in this current lockdown for the next three to four months what you will find is that we still won’t achieve the reduction required for this year.  

“We will probably get a lot nearer than we would have done without what’s going on at the moment but the levels of reduction required, and the action required to achieve those levels, are completely unprecedented.” 

However, Elliott was hopeful that some good could come of the current situation but warned that the issue of climate change would still be there once the Covid-19 pandemic was over. 

“One thing that people are realising is that it is possible to communicate without going to face-to-face meetings and without flying and travelling all the time. Home-working, using technology and doing things over the internet are some of the potential mitigation strategies for reducing carbon emissions. You have to hope that some of these things become embedded in working culture.

“In the end once we emerge from this current crisis, which is all about dealing with risk and making sure we all live to fight another day, the next item on the agenda, which if anything is an even bigger problem, is climate change. That issue hasn’t gone away, it has temporarily been put on the back burner.”

Elliott recently stepped down as chair of the Manchester Climate Change Partnership after more than five years.

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Is now really the time, Gavin? I guess the architects and consultants have plenty of time at the moment whilst the NHS is pushed to the brink.

By New Wave

Well said.As long as we have short term vision problems like climate change will not get serious attention. Trump could get re-elected giving us a further 4 years of the worlds most powerful nation denying that there is a problem. I’m not sure that our ‘management’ isn’t in the same denial group.

By Ray Makin

The magic money tree still doesn’t exist. As a nation in 2019 we were £1.8 trillion in debt, and this Covid-19 disruption will put any budget into deficit, possibly putting the country back into austerity after the fact? Of course we can do more about climate change, but an ever increasing population is the biggest large scale issue to tackle, surely? More people need more resources. Fewer need less. Easy, right? The global birth rate needs to come down to levels resembling the global death rate. There are give or take 4x more people on this Earth than 100 years ago. There’s your problem. Better boilers, railways, and insulation will obviously help the problem, but it’s the equivalent of banning plastic straws. In the grand scheme of things it simply doesn’t matter yet. An ugly perspective, but some truth in it?

By Really?

What an economically illiterate man. Typical of the climate emotional breakdown group. The climate is not an emergency in the same way Coronavirus is. It just isn’t. There is no case for adding tens of billions to public debt for future generations in normal times. The UK is ahead of almost all countries in the world and if this man wants to attack the UK, he should try aiming his fire at China or India or anywhere else that has an appalling record. It is also the case that his wind turbines turn out to be more carbon intensive than the energy production is replaces in many cases! Regardless, the private sector is already going ‘green’ in so many areas and the private sector is the innovation in this. If we just spend state money, devalue the currency and load on debt, that in no way will help to raise debt for future green projects. People like this need an economics for 11 year olds lesson.

By Richard

What are all these events where people are piling in, in close proximity to each other?
When was this?
How can he talk about the end of the pandemic when a vaccine is 18 months away at least?

By Brian

What a load of nonsense – needs must at the current time or there will be no one around to enjoy the climate!

By The Realist

What a bizarre point of view at a time like this.

By Puzzled

The only illiterates are those who deny the science of climate change and fail to understand that the time horizon and rate of change of global warming is very much different to that of a global pandemic. That doesn’t mean that co-ordinated action isn’t still urgent. And to those illiterates who say the cause of global warming is global population growth, that’s essentially saying that global-warming causing carbon emissions are caused by human activity, which is obvious. So what’s your solution? Voluntary euthanasia? Genocide? Compulsory contraception? No we need to de-carbonise at source and update our infrastructure to make it more efficient. Otherwise we will end up paying to clean up the effects of climate change many times over, in the long term and have to deal with an increasingly unstable and hostile climate, as the recent Australian bush fires demonstrate. Now THAT’S economically illiterate.

By Anti- Trump-think