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WU students and researchers call for a price on carbon

08. Mai 2020

University, COVID-19 and the Climate Crisis

COVID-19 is a violent reminder of the fragility of the current moment. For epidemiologists, it came as no surprise - already in 2007 scientists were predicting a coronavirus emerging from our contact with bats, as we encroach more and more on their natural habitats. It was the speed of the pandemic that was new. As the first airline companies grounded by the travel shutdown have begun asking for governments to bail them out, let's also remind ourselves of the fact that last year there were nearly 69 million commercial flights - a massive 10% year-on-year increase. And because 80% of the global population has never actually experienced air travel, an uncomfortable amount of responsibility for the spreading of the virus falls on those of us living in the rich countries.

While the world enters the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression (the IMF estimates a 3% decrease in global GDP -- the Depression only cut 0.1%), university workers and students have transitioned to online teaching without much effort, and working from home took little away from our research endeavours. This puts us in a very privileged position.

Here at the Marketing Institute at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, we have tried to use this privilege to organize a grassroots effort centered around universities in the EU, calling on the European Commission to put a fair price on carbon emissions. Together with Greta Thunberg, we know that the task in front of us is simple: carbon emissions have to be reduced fast, and no amount of talk will substitute for this simple fact. And just like we could have saved many lives had we taken the prospects of a global pandemic more seriously and prepared at least an EU-wide emergency plan, we now need to listen to the scientists and act together to prevent the worst scenarios of the climate crisis.

Our colleagues from the Institute for Quantitative Economics have recently calculated that a carbon price is by far the cheapest way of reducing European CO2 emissions, particularly because we can substitute the dirtiest 10% of our energy production - which, shockingly, still comes from burning coal in 2020 - with existing cleaner alternatives like natural gas plants, many of which are kept idle because burning coal is still so cheap. In the long term, we must move beyond the fossil fuels altogether, but with this simple step we could reduce the CO2 emissions from the crucial energy sector by up to 27% *instantly*, and send a strong signal about our future direction, away from dirty energy.

We have created a website called CO2 must go to explain the science behind our campaign, and we are calling on all European universities to support our effort. More than 24 thousand Europeans already signed a petition to the European Commission calling for a higher carbon price, and there are some 19 million tertiary students around Europe: together we can put great pressure on our political leaders, support evidence-based economic policy, free of propaganda and politics, and finally end our dirty affair with coal.

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