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WASHINGTON, DC: According to the U.S. government’s Fifth National Climate Assessment, mandated by Congress to determine climate change impacts, risks and responses, the initial cost of COVID-19 to the U.S. from lost economic output and reduced health was US$17.9 trillion.

The multiple agency report says this amount is now considered an underestimate given continued transmission and the high prevalence of post-COVID medical conditions.

In 2020, COVID-19 lockdowns reduced transportation and electricity generation and decreased annual U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 11 percent.

At the peak of restrictions in April 2020, emissions fell by approximately 32 percent. While the reduction level was not sustained and had little influence on the global climate, it showed voluntary lifestyle changes will not be enough to achieve the country’s GHG emissions-reduction targets.

The report notes COVID-19 and climate change have common underlying challenges and solutions. They include:

• Improved science communication that builds trust and minimizes disinformation impacts

• Collective action among nations to minimize threats

• Bottom-up and top-down programming to build community resilience

• Solutions to address stark socioeconomic, racial, and gender disparities that increase the vulnerability of those who are facing discrimination or have fewer resources

• Investments in public health and medical infrastructure that can respond to acute increases in medical burden

• Continued advancement in technology to prevent and respond to crises

• Responsive and agile systems that detect and respond to early warning signals before the worst impacts are realized

The U.S. government can use the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to build resilience and to better mitigate, respond to, and recover from both the next novel pathogen and climate change, says the study:

“Early, preventive actions will slow or avoid the impacts of both pandemics and climate change, particularly the impacts felt by future generations. For climate change, preventive actions include achieving net-zero emissions and increasing adaptive capacity.

“For pandemics, actions include addressing current health inequities, modernizing surveillance systems, enhancing targeted communication, mobilizing community-based prevention programs, and rapidly developing technical solutions such as vaccines.”

However current supply chain vulnerabilities show the need to adapt to avoid future interruptions as climate-related risks threaten the livelihoods of suppliers, distributors, labor and infrastructure, according to the report.

Operating globally across complex and interdependent infrastructure networks, activities and resources that include producers, manufacturers and distributors; the pace, scale, and scope of efforts to transform supply chains are not yet sufficient to meet either current or expected disruptions and costs.

While the COVID-19 pandemic showed the sharp demand fluctuations, fragility, and chokepoints of an evolving, multimodal transportation system, so climate adaptation and emissions mitigation will require major transformations of supply chain transportation infrastructure and technologies.

To protect the quality and security of life for all requires a rapid acceleration of supply chain adaptation measures that increase flexibility and ensure equitable access to goods and services, the report concludes.
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