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Professor Gail Whiteman, who joins the University of Exeter Business School next month

‘Make economic recovery low carbon or risk new crisis,’ warns Exeter climate expert

Governments will be “walking into the next crisis” if climate change is not at the heart of rebuilding the economy, a leading expert in sustainable business has warned.

Professor Gail Whiteman, who joins the University of Exeter Business School next month, was responding to teenage activist Greta Thunberg’s call for governments to treat climate change with the same urgency they have the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Whiteman told BBC News that COVID-19 has made governments and people around the world “wake up to the idea that systemic risk really, really is a threat and can happen”.

She said: “I think we have a moment in time where the world as we know it has changed and business as usual must change and must stop. We have to reset and we have to reboot the future so that people feel empowered.”

Asked if rebuilding the economy will see governments seek to “get back to the old normal” in expense of the climate, she replied: “Let’s get back to a better normal. Without doubt people have suffered from both a health perspective and an economic perspective in the UK and around the world.

“But we have to make sure that those COVID recovery packages are low carbon consistent, because if not we’re just walking into the next crisis.”

Professor Whiteman, the co-founder of Arctic Basecamp, an Arctic research camp set up each year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, said movements like Black Lives Matter show “there are a lot of things on the ground that we have to stop not looking at”.

She added: “We can say the same with climate change, which is disproportionately affecting developing regions and people all around the world.”

Professor Whiteman also said climate scientists should be among the experts advising the UK government at its daily coronavirus briefings “to make sure that health and the climate are protected as we rebuild our economy”.

Date: 22 June 2020