Issues Decoded
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Issues Decoded

Climate Policy in a Post-COVID World: Where Do Countries Stand?

Photography by James Meszaros

Edited by James Meszaros

Global carbon emissions experienced a temporary decline earlier this year as economic lockdowns reduced travel, industry and business activity. As economies reopen, climate activists are urging governments, businesses and citizens to adopt more climate-friendly policies and practices to ensure a green recovery. Climate will be one of the themes of the 75th UN General Assembly that gets underway this week. Advocates say this moment is an opportunity to advance global investments in renewable energy, improve energy efficiency, reduce subsidies for fossil fuels and for businesses and societies globally to adopt sounder environmental practices.

Our Weber Shandwick sustainability experts in nine markets around the world are monitoring climate action and here are some trends they are seeing:

Oliver Drewes, Senior Executive Director for Public Affairs, in Brussels: “Europe aims to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent and is addressing climate change with broad public support across the EU Member States. Climate policies and actions are set out in the European Green Deal, a growth strategy to transform the EU in a climate neutral and circular economy, while preserving Europe’s global competitiveness. Many foundations are competing to impact climate policy. The challenge is to set a strategic agenda and nurture the right partnerships in a highly-networked, ever-changing civil society environment.”

Jan Dirk Kemming, Head of Sustainability, in Germany: “Recent polls indicate the significant importance of climate policy among the German population. An all-time high preference for the Green Party and changes in German consumption and mobility habits suggest there is substantial public demand for political action. Germany is leading the EU presidency in the second half of 2020 and will play a visible role in advancing the Commission’s sustainability agenda. An ambitious carbon taxation initiative could kick in with a likely Green Party participation in the next German government after the 2021 elections.”

Saptarshi R. Dutta, Vice President, Public Affairs, in India: “COVID-19 has particularly hit India’s poor, marginalized and migrant populations, which are also impacted most by climate change. Extreme weather events are driving heat- and humidity-related mortality and morbidity, infectious diseases and malnutrition resulting from crop failures. India has inadequate healthcare systems, which now face an even greater challenge in addressing the pandemic. Even as the country struggles through its biggest GDP contraction in economic history, all stakeholders are looking to the government for solutions on water and air pollution, plastic waste and climate, as well as to promote long-term growth, advance social development, and attract foreign investment.”

Gloria Wu, Senior Vice President, in China: “Climate and sustainability are priorities of the central government and China’s National Energy Administration has enacted several laws to promote the development of renewables and green technologies. The central government has been a driver in transforming and upgrading manufacturing industries and increasing people’s awareness of the climate threat, as well as making significant investments in smart infrastructure, 5G deployment, electric vehicles, AI technologies and other climate solutions. China is looking for greater recognition of its climate efforts in global media and by other societies.”

Motoko Yano, Senior Vice President, in Japan: “Coal remains a problem for Japan. Without a push for renewables, coal could continue to provide as much as one third of Japan’s electricity by 2030. Japan has also been criticized for exporting coal plants overseas. Grassroots efforts are growing among local governments to mitigate climate change. Nearly 150 local governments, representing 56 percent of Japan’s population, have announced their commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Local governments are also acting to address extreme weather events, including typhoons. COVID-19 is accelerating these trends as it heightens our attention on public health and quality of life.”

Allen Kim, Director, Public Affairs & Policy Communications, in South Korea: “South Korea remains highly reliant on fossil fuels and nuclear power for energy generation, accounting for nearly 70 percent of its energy mix in 2019 despite the current government’s environmentally-friendly policies. The COVID-19 pandemic will slow progress toward renewable energy adoption. Our energy sector is highly regulated and uncompetitive. As in other countries, marginalized populations suffer the most from both the pandemic and climate and this is not being addressed in the current discussion around inequity and climate policy.”

Harriet Loughlin, Director, Sustainability & Corporate, in Australia: “Australia’s reliance on coal and agriculture for economic growth has crafted a unique relationship between communities, coal and climate. For years, progress on climate has been overshadowed by party politics and policy U-turns. Without Government steering or providing regulatory incentives, corporate Australia has lagged on carbon reduction and renewable energy commitments. But Australia’s Black Summer — an extended bushfire season following an unforgiving drought — has crystalised the consequences of climate for the everyday Australian. The Energy Minister is adopting a more constructive view on renewable energy investments and the Clean Energy Council has proposed a roadmap to create 50,000 jobs and inject $50 billion into renewable energy, primarily wind and solar.”

Luciana Barbetta, Managing Director, Public Affairs, in Brazil: “Brazil’s environmental policies are a target of criticism from many environmental groups and other nations. In 2019, Brazil ceded its hosting of COP-25 and sought to cancel the UN’s Climate Week in Bahia, signifying the government’s lack of priority for climate. The government has reduced the national environment budget by 95 percent and President Bolsonaro fired the head of the agency monitoring deforestation in August. COVID-19 has created a refocused policy agenda with other issues, such as climate, deprioritized. Deforestation has risen 39 percent this year over the same period in 2019.”

James Meszaros, Executive Vice President, International Public Affairs, in the United States: “Climate politics are highly polarizing across political affiliation, age, geography and income levels. But a majority of Americans say the federal government is not doing enough to address the environment, from protecting water and air quality to reducing the effects of climate change. There is increasing competition between traditional and renewable energy resources, as renewables begin to replace retiring coal and nuclear plants. The outcome of the 2020 elections will determine how active the US Government will be in promoting new investments in climate and for energy, transport and environmental policies in 2021 and beyond.”

Edited by Helen McCarthy

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Jim Meszaros

Jim Meszaros


Washington DC | International consultant to governments, multinational corporations and foundations on global economic, trade, development and climate issues