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Accelerating our global response to a worsening crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic, catastrophic on many levels, has starkly exposed the structural, social, economic and political factors that prevent equitable health outcomes for people around the world.

While communities everywhere grapple with the devastating losses of life, livelihoods and connection, another catastrophe is well underway. Climate change continues to devastate the health and well-being of people all over the planet.

To commemorate the opening of the UW’s new Hans Rosling Center for Population Health, we asked five of the University’s leading voices on climate change and decarbonization to discuss how we can move forward from the pandemic in ways that deliver environmental resilience and positive health outcomes for all.

Amy Snover, director of the Climate Impacts Group and university director of the Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, contributed to the series with the following essay.

Accelerating our global response to a worsening crisis

Colockum Tarps Fire / WA Department of Natural Resources

As pandemic stay-at-home orders went into effect around the world, we saw headlines celebrating clean air and drops in global greenhouse gas emissions. These changes seemed a thin silver lining during a dark time.

But they were only temporary improvements, not actual success in addressing the root cause of climate change: the centrality of fossil fuels in the global economy. In fact, many responses to the pandemic have slowed our responses to climate change. The next international conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was postponed, and essential funding to tackle climate risks in California and Washington is at risk.

Unfortunately, climate change is not on hold; it continues to accelerate. The year 2020 is on track to be the second warmest year on record. Climate change–fueled wildfires, hurricanes and heat waves affect much of the country, the Greenland ice sheet is reportedly melting past the point of no return, and until we eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions (not just release them more slowly), it will only get worse.

The current global unraveling has shown how we, and the systems we depend on, are all connected. Weaknesses in our health-care system, in social and economic justice and in the stability of our climate make life more precarious for us all.

Rebuilding our collective lives post-pandemic requires attending to all of the intertwined systems that we depend on. Responses to COVID-19 must incorporate solutions for climate change and racial justice. Recovery investments must accelerate decarbonization, not pause it — and advance preparation for rising climate stresses, not punt on it. In a world of compound risks, we must insist on compound solutions. We don’t have enough time, money or planet to do it any other way.

This article originally appeared on the Population Health news page. Read the all five essays here.