Corona leadership for the climate crisis

While I share fears that the corona pandemic will put necessary climate action on the back burner, I am seeing something different and hopeful in Denmark.

One thing is the rising momentum behind demands from Parliament that the government’s next round of economic stimuli should be investments in climate solutions. More renewable energy, sustainable infrastructure, energy efficiency in homes and public buildings etc.

But equally uplifting is witnessing genuine political leadership during the corona crisis that demonstrates most of the qualities necessary to confront the climate emergency.  We now know that our Prime Minister, and her government can lead us through the climate crisis. Now we can hope that she will.

Mette Frederiksen has created a deep, shared sense of urgency. She has communicated clearly about both the threat we are facing and the actions that must be taken.

She has acted decisively, quickly, and with resolve, showing a willingness to invest heavily, here and now, in confronting the crisis.

There is no more ”business as usual.” Mette Frederiksen has placed demands on business leaders where goals set by political leaders are non-negotiable, but where actions are negotiated so change can happen quickly.

She has taken science and expertise seriously. She has taken political responsibility where the path is not clear and outcomes are uncertain. This is the definition of courage.

This ”whatever it takes” determination, and the prime minister’s words at a recent press conference, can be a mantra for leaders in the climate crisis: ”Better to do too much than too little. Better to act too soon than too late”.

 Mette Frederiksen has also spoken directly to all of us — about personal responsibility and the necessity of changing daily habits that seem as natural as breathing air. In a crisis, be it corona or climate, no one should be uncertain as to whether they have a role to play or what that role is. And it is not just about following new rules. A sense of personal responsibility and shared purpose releases ingenuity and energy for creating local solutions.

The prime minister’s direct appeal to community spirit extends beyond the necessity of sacrifice to the motivation (and meaning) that resides in a shared awareness of our dependence upon each other. The Prime Ministers words ”We are deeply dependent upon each other, you and I…” moves the focus from what change costs to the deep positive meaning in taking personal responsibility for collective survival.

Amid the fears and loss in a crisis, good leadership also awakens hope through a focus on what is worth living for. My favorite scene with our prime minister is not the press conferences but a film of her together with her daughter, washing dishes, and singing along to the national corona sing-along on tv.

A broad political and business consensus now drives an unstoppable momentum towards action—in the Corona pandemic.

This same momentum can be created to meet the climate crisis. The ambitious goals in Denmark for reducing climate emissions by 70 percent in 2030 are possible if the same leadership steps up to the podium: decisive action, respect for science, political courage, willingness to invest, the ability to create a sense of urgency and purpose, mobilizing both business and citizens.

Mette Frederiksen has put herself out front, leading a broad team of ministers representing every area needed for success against Corona. The same mobilization may be on its way in a Committee for Green Transition where ministers for transportation, business development, agriculture, research, taxation, and environment support our climate minister, in developing a national climate plan.

Yes, the climate crisis requires solutions that are more complex and more long term. But Mette Frederiksen, and other leaders across the globe, have shown that they have the right stuff for the climate challenge. They have created a call to action against an invisible yet devastating threat. And we can hope that protecting our children’s future can be at least as motivating as protecting our elderly citizens.

Some leaders have also demonstrated — and awakened in others — the perseverance and robustness that we will need even more in longer term transformation where it is not about ”getting back to normal” as soon as possible, but about creating a new normal, and maintaining new norms. And where the task is not getting back to ”business as usual” but about building new business models and forming the structural basis for sustainable human existence on our little planet.

Whatever it takes!

”Better too soon than too late.”


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