Opinion | Our world must learn from the consequential effects of the coronavirus pandemic to urgently address the climate crisis
The tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic and its associated challenges have thrown our world into chaos, with the virus destroying lives and livelihoods in its path. The whole world is presently seized by the effects of the pandemic, but there is a silent crisis of equal measure that has long been ravaging lives, devastating livelihoods, destroying property and threatening the fate of our entire planet. This is the global climate crisis.
Unlike COVID-19, climate change and its impacts are not novel processes. What is new is the severity, frequency and rapid rate of change laced with extreme events that are slowly becoming metaphors for human suffering and deprivation.
Incontrovertible evidence firmly anchored in science suggest that the climate crisis is reaching a tipping point, with huge and potentially irreversible damage to our planet, our economies and overall human security. The World Meteorological Organisation states emphatically that the impact of climate change on our planet is ‘reaching a crescendo, with the past five years being the hottest on record’. Our world cannot be in denial of the climate crisis any longer. COVID-19 is devastating thousands of lives and threatening millions, but the impacts of climate change are endangering the lives and livelihoods of billions of people. The ongoing pandemic must be a wake-up call to our global community of the ultimate costs of inaction on the silent, but rapidly unfolding, catastrophic climate crisis.
The shock of the sudden onset coronavirus pandemic and the dreadful experience that the world is presently going through must laser-focus us all on the benefits of proactive action on climate change. Against the lessons that the pandemic is painfully teaching us, it would be irresponsible to wait until the climate crisis reaches ‘pandemic’ levels for the world to act aggressively. We must take politics out of the climate crisis, embrace the evidence generated by science, and act decisively on climate change now. As climate activist, Emily Atkins, aptly puts it ‘the pandemic is showing us that rejecting science doesn’t make the laws of nature go away’.
As with the coronavirus pandemic, climate change is a threat multiplier. It makes existing problems worse, creates new ones, makes a mockery of boundaries whilst striking with great force in rich and poor countries alike. And crucially, dealing with the climate crisis now is in itself a mitigation action against future pandemics. Protecting the environment and addressing climate change is not about abstract emotionalism. It is about protecting people, saving lives and livelihoods and safeguarding our heritage. As a traditional leader, I deem saving our heritage a non-negotiable goal, and I am determined to do exactly that.
The climate crisis is as much a global crisis as the on-going pandemic, and there are real parallels between the two. As the debilitating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are forcing changes in our ways of life and lifestyles, we must, with a sense of urgency, move from business as usual and confront the existential threat posed by the climate crisis head-on. We must focus on, and accelerate actions on the necessary adjustments needed to safeguard our ecosystems, halt and reverse the effects of climate change, protect our planet and its future, as the Sustainable Development Goals enjoin us to do.
Although we have yet to win the war, our collective experience in fighting the coronavirus should serve as an inspiration and spur the needed changes and global actions. The extraordinary cooperation in the global response to the pandemic, evidenced amongst others, in China sending critical supplies to the United States, the US donating ventilators to Europe, and Cuban doctors being sent to Italy to treat patients must serve as a shining example for global action on climate change. It is manifestly clear that the effects of the virus, just as those of climate change, are not circumscribed to national boundaries, and that solidarity, whether in the context of a climate crisis or a health pandemic is about our shared humanity.
We must muster the same vigour, the equivalent political will and the bountiful energy that we are seeing in the battle against the pandemic to fight climate change. As nations unveil trillions in stimulus packages to deal with the economic effects of the pandemic, environmental equity and environmental protection must be integral components to help build back better, and address the needs of millions of global citizens so vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Our aspirations and desires to address the climate crisis are right and those aspirations must be non-negotiable. But with the consequential lessons that the coronavirus pandemic is teaching us, we must be resolute in our resolve to move from aspirations to swift and robust actions. We must pool and scale up our efforts to deal a mighty blow to climate change using all the worthy lessons that have emerged through the unfortunate and dreadful COVID-19 pandemic.
We must act now and do so with gusto, to protect the future of the planet and our shared humanity, as the cost of inaction to our common future, our joint heritage and our shared humanity is too dire to ponder.
Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin
Okyenhene (King of Akyem Abuakwa) Ghana