Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic for tackling the climate crisis

From uniting behind the science to the power of small actions.

A girl stands in front of her school in Bangladesh that has been submerged under water. The well she stands upon is the only source of clean water in the area.
13 August 2020

Every year on 22 April, people come together for Earth Day to celebrate the planet and environmental protection. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, but the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak means celebrations will look very different from usual.  
Scenes from previous years of millions of children and young people marching for climate action have been replaced by empty streets and deserted public spaces. Children and young people may be staying home, but they’re continuing to make their voices heard as they move the #ClimateStrikeOnline. 
The massive global response to COVID-19 leads us to the question: what can we take from the pandemic to tackle the climate crisis?

We all have a role to play

Climate change and COVID-19 are two very different challenges, but they do have some key things in common. Both are global - they do not respect national boundaries - and both require countries to work together to find solutions. 
The global community has shown that it can act to address a crisis, with governments, businesses and individuals taking measures and changing behaviours in response to the pandemic. When we work together, even small personal actions when put together, like physical distancing, can make a big difference, helping us to overcome huge challenges.

Protect the most vulnerable 

In a crisis, we must protect the most vulnerable. The last few years have seen young people around the world raising their voices on an unprecedented scale, asking adults and leaders to protect them from climate change. Now, by staying inside and taking their climate marches online, young people are showing solidarity with the older members of society, who are more vulnerable to the virus, by helping to stop the spread. 
This kind of intergenerational solidarity is what solves crises. As the impact of climate change intensifies over time, it is the children and young people of today who will face its worst effects. Young people have been telling us that they are afraid of climate change with the same urgency as people now feel about COVID-19. This is a time for children and young people to talk with parents and grandparents, to discuss the kind of world we want to create when the pandemic has passed.  
If you are learning from home or teaching remotely, the World’s Largest Lesson has produced this ‘mini’ lesson plan to help guide climate conversations.

We can all play a part in spreading accurate facts and science, countering the misinformation that puts lives at risk. 

Unite behind the science 

Both climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic require us to listen to experts, to unite behind the science and not play politics with people’s lives. This means responding to the challenge at the appropriate scale and treating a crisis like a crisis with the urgency that’s needed. 
UNICEF has created a toolkit for young people to raise awareness and take action against COVID-19. Many of these lessons and guidance can also be applied to climate change, such as helping to combat misinformation online. We can all play a part in spreading accurate facts and science, countering the misinformation that puts lives at risk. 

Keep learning for a better tomorrow 

Due to COVID-19, over 1 billion children are being deprived of their education due to nationwide school closures. This risks creating a generation less equipped to take action on, or deal with the impacts of, the climate crisis.  
But children and families are trying their best to keep learning. All children should be equipped with the resources, including remote learning and technology, to continue their education, even if they are not physically at school.  
A good education is one of the most valuable tools we have to fight climate change, because it provides children and young people with the skills and knowledge they need to create a better tomorrow. We can help them use this time at home to build their strengths, their creativity, and their desire to confront any challenge. 
To children and young people everywhere: Keep learning and keep raising your voices!

This article was originally published on 21 April 2020. It was last updated on 13 August 2020.