Treat climate change with urgency of pandemic, researchers say

Image credit: reuters

A team of researchers led by the Glasgow Caledonian University Centre for Climate Justice has recommended that climate change be treated as an emergency comparable to the Covid-19 pandemic, such as by keeping the public informed with real-time reporting about loss of life and other damage.

The study focused on the experiences of policymakers in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The research consortium included the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance and other academic partners in the region. It included a literature review, an online survey and semi-structured interviews with participants from a range of organisations in the Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa.

The researchers looked at how the pandemic has affected the implementation of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs): the national plans for climate action submitted by countries as an obligation under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

A concern frequently raised by participants was that resources channelled towards handling the pandemic would detract from resources previously allocated to climate mitigation, or that the shock of the pandemic would result in a “downright reduction” of financial commitments to tackling climate change. The study also found that public health restrictions on in-person meeting had a devastating impact for the NDC development process, causing “significant delays” while workarounds were developed.

The researchers recommended that industrialised nations must be prepared to commit higher levels of financial support and technology transfer to the developing world in order to manage climate change fairly.

“Although Africa accounts for a very small portion of global greenhouse gas emissions, African governments are committed to doing their share in stopping the climate crisis,” said Dr Sennan Mattar of Glasgow Caledonian University. “However, many of their NDCs are conditional on receiving adequate financial support from industrialised nations.

“Combined with the existing considerable development challenges across the African continent, it is crucial that NDC and development funding is not stopped or curtailed despite the economic fallout caused by the pandemic in wealthier nations.”

The report called for governments to keep the public informed about emergencies associated with climate change, such as extreme weather, in the same manner they have with the pandemic. For instance, the report said, they could use data to report loss of life and other damage in real time. Some interviewees commented that while climate change is “ultimately […] more deadly than the virus”, it has failed to elicit the same level of urgency among governments and societies.

The research consortium said there is a need to integrate the pandemic recovery with climate action. Dr Mithika Mwenda, executive director of PACJA, commented: “We are now past the point where we can address the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate emergency as separate crises.

“This report shows that the pandemic has not only forestalled urgently needed action to halt and begin reversing global warming, but it has also worsened existing vulnerabilities to climate change, weakened the adaptive capacities of communities and countries, especially in Africa, and raised the cost of future climate action.

“We, therefore, cannot have pandemic recovery plans that serve as excuses to further delay ambitious climate action. To be deemed successful, these plans must integrate the twin risks posed by Covid-19 and climate change by freeing up resources for the implementation of NDCs.”

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