Climate change: Could the coronavirus crisis spur a green recovery? By Roger Harrabin
The Covid-19 lockdown has cut climate change emissions - for now. But some governments want to go further by harnessing their economic recovery plans to boost low-carbon industries. Their slogan is "Build Back Better", but can they succeed?
I've just had a light bulb moment. The feisty little wren chirping loudly in the matted ivy outside my back door is telling us something important about global climate change.
That's because, intertwined with the melodious notes of a robin, I can actually hear its song clearly.
Normally, both birds are muffled by the insistent rumble of traffic, but the din has been all but extinguished in the peace of lockdown.
The drop in traffic is a major contributor to the fall in planet-warming CO2 emissions we've witnessed globally.
Before the Covid-19 crisis, we accepted the dominance of traffic noise as an inevitable consequence of city living.
Now, we have sampled an alternative urban ambience.
Governments currently face a stark choice: bail out polluting businesses, using that as leverage to impose environmentally-minded reforms, or let them return to their carbon-intensive activities as an economic quick fix.
But many members of the public have little desire to return to the state of affairs before lockdown.
In a poll, a fifth of members of the motoring group the AA, said they would work more from home in future.
This has implications for the UK government's £28bn road-building programme which assumes that traffic will rise by 1% per year - a conjecture that now looks unlikely.
The stay-at-home trend will be offset somewhat by nervous public transport users shunning trains for fear of infection, and by long-distance commuters who might decide that if they only need to visit the office three days a week, they'll buy a home even further away.
The AA, which for years was seen as the voice of motorists, has asked the government to think again about its £28bn road expansion. Its president, Edmund King, has suggested the money would be better spent on improving broadband
Another likely winner from the crisis is the movement fighting to turn city streets over to pedestrians and cyclists.
This has already happened in places like Paris, which is rolling out 650km of "corona cycle-ways", and Milan, which has a programme to prioritise pedestrians and cyclists.
The determination to seize the moment for environmental change stretches further than the transport sector.
The UK is one of several nations looking to reboot its environmental strategy by calling in favours from private industry. After all, it was government which bailed out employers when the crunch came in March. The catchphrase is "Build Back Better".
But it would seem to face a direct challenge in the shape of China and the US. The economies of both these superpowers have been savaged by the effects of coronavirus.
They are desperate to get back to pre-virus levels of output, so their leaders may think the surest means of doing so is through tried and trusted climate warming fossil fuels.
For those seeking a greener way out of the Covid-19 slump, renewable energy will help, along with electric vehicle charging points and broadband.