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This post is by Callum Stewart of Hymans Robertson

We are all facing unprecedented times, and changes to the way we work, rest and play. It’s difficult to see past the challenges that are right in front of us, but there are signs of hope for the future.

There are plenty of people, organisations and governments that will lose out in this environment. It also seems clear now that many individuals, worldwide, will sadly suffer the greatest impact of all. However, one winner in all this could be our environment. Through satellite imagery, scientists have analysed the potential impact on carbon emissions from lockdowns implemented in various countries, including China and Italy. The findings suggest a significant reduction in carbon emissions, with estimates ranging from 20 to 30%. This article in The Guardian illustrates the impact of the enforced slowdown on air pollution in the UK (NO2 levels).

One of the biggest challenges has been understanding, and conveying the enormity of the task we’re all faced with to protect the future of our planet from climate change. Through the lens of the challenges we are currently overcoming, we are in a unique position to turn the changes needed into a very real context. For example, based on the UN’s latest estimates, we need to reduce carbon emissions by 7.6% each year for the next 10 years to reduce global warming to 1.5 degrees. In other words, we need to reduce carbon emissions progressively each year, to achieve an overall reduction of more than 75%. This places the enormity of the task into stark context – for example, the drastic measures we are all living with just now are only sufficient to reach around one third of this target. Embedding some of these measures as new norms will move us along the way, but we will all need to do much more.

We are starting to see the environmental benefits of such action already. Waterways in Venice are reported to be the clearest in memory, and whilst swans and dolphins in the region were sadly confirmed as “fake news” there are reports of wildlife flourishing in other parts of the country. We will all benefit from cleaner air to breathe and less litter on our streets. There is an almost endless list of environmental benefits. We are seeing societal benefits too. We are more supportive of our ageing population within local communities, and we are increasingly supporting our local businesses, recognising their value to the surrounding society and economy.

So what do we need to do? Ultimately, we need to embrace a meaningful proportion of the changes we are currently making. These include agile working, fewer trips to the supermarket only picking up the things we need and removing unnecessary travel.  On a daily basis, we are proving that we can implement these changes in a work context. For example, we have completed numerous successful Board meetings from home, potentially in our pyjamas.

As well as actions we can take as individuals, government and companies must act to find solutions which keep the world running whilst protecting our planet so we can move towards a sustainable future, without the level of restrictions we currently face.  In rebuilding the economy once this crisis has passed, we should seek to do so in a way that recognises what we need to achieve, rather than just returning to old ways.

Trustees and governance committees already recognise climate change as a material, long term risk, and have been taking steps to reduce the impact that their pension scheme has on the environment. Some trustees and governance committees have also been considering ways to generate a positive social or environmental impact through their investment decisions.  Investment decisions alone won’t help us protect our people and our planet.

We all must take responsibility to embrace just some of the changes we are now being forced to make to the way we work, rest and play.

Stay safe, and stay indoors!

About Callum Stewart

Callum Stewart is an Investment Consultant and Actuary with more than 10 years of pensions funding and investment experience. 

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