COVID-19, climate, and the student movement

Tuesday 05-05-2020 - 11:36

The COVID-19 crisis has shown strength in our communities and social solidarity as people pull together, reach out to support neighbours, help community groups, and collaborate across borders.


Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed that our existing systems are broken and do not meet the needs of people and planet. As with the climate crisis, COVID-19 has highlighted and exacerbated the injustices that lie within these systems. Those who are most vulnerable are once again neglected and the least protected. For example, people already displaced by climate disasters face crowded spaces and poor access to water and sanitation, challenges that are now directly life-threatening in the face of COVID-19. We know that higher numbers of working-class people and communities of colour live in areas with greater air pollution levels which may be linked to an increased COVID-19 death rate. Likewise, disabled people are at an increased risk of contracting infectious diseases and with the climate crisis building, the risk of further pandemics is only rising.


The injustices brought to light by the COVID-19 pandemic expose the same issues which will be exacerbated by the climate crisis – working-class people, disabled people, and people of colour are disproportionately impacted. Whilst it is right that we focus on COVID-19 now, urgent action on the climate crisis must not be side-lined. We know from the 2008 economic crash that if we do not act now, the economic recovery from COVID-19 will be dominated by big corporates and nasty polluters.


Carbon-intensive and polluting industries, including fossil fuel companies and banks, have already been calling for massive tax-payer-funded bail outs, the delay or suspension of environmental regulations, and the continuation of endless growth, putting profit over people and planet. This will only drive irreversible climate and ecological breakdown and further inequality. In the past weeks, oil prices have plummeted to record lows as supply outweighs demand, revealing the increasing volatility of these companies, which just under 50% of UK universities continue to invest in. Given the opportunity, such companies will shape the post COVID-19 recovery.  


We need a recovery plan that centres communities not corporations, where people continue to reach out to one another and offer solutions to shape the ‘new normal’ as a more just, equal and sustainable society. We have seen that when a crisis is treated like a crisis, things can change overnight.


Young people are facing enormous uncertainty in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, from precarious housing and employment to disruptions in study. NUS is calling for a student safety net to mitigate the long-term impacts on students’ futures.


Throughout history, the student movement has mobilised, raised awareness and put pressure on institutions with progressive victories ranging from the Anti-Apartheid Movement Campaign, to women’s equality, divestment, and, more recently, the Youth Climate Strikes. Young people and students are raising their voices and calling for climate justice and Green New Deal Principles to be centred in a recovery from COVID-19.


We need schools, colleges, and universities to support a just recovery. That may be through:

  • Ambitious carbon reduction plans, investing in local and community-based solutions;
  • Using investments towards climate justice solutions and renewables as a means of kick-starting the economy and encouraging good green-collar jobs;
  • Supporting their local economies by buying from small businesses and those with more ethical practices;
  • Encouraging better work-life balance for students and staff alike, supporting carers and parents and ensuring home-working and flexi-working can become the norm;
  • And embedding sustainability and social justice into the curriculum to ensure graduates are equipped to transform the organisations they go on to work for.


We need our educational institutions to support the demands of student and youth voices. As institutions develop plans which will shape the future, they need to show that they can continue to do things differently, react quickly, and act decisively. Our educational institutions are built on progressive values and educate those that go on to shape society in many ways.


We’ve signed the open letter to support the COVID-19 #JustRecovery principles. You can sign it here.


We have also signed the COVID-19 Statement: Multiple Crises, Common Injustices from the UK COP 26 Coalition. 


We are backing the Build Back Better campaign. Get involved too here.


Join the #ClimateStrikeOnline, setting great examples of moving climate activism online.

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