Jennifer Uchendu (MADev13) writes on the parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change
For the past couple of weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic I have been struggling (just like everyone else) to adapt to this very unusual way of living, and at the same time, anxiously staying informed on everything unfolding with the crisis; from government responses, conspiracy theories and more particularly on climate lessons I can draw to my future development work. I have joined webinars, read blogs and engaged in meaningful conversations around the parallels between the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
I have also found my Sustainability and Policy Process module at IDS useful in analysing some of these narratives - an interesting one being that both climate change and COVID-19 remind me of the movie Mad Max: Fury Road
with themes centred on solidarity, survival and a sprinkle of heroic feminism. Below, I have shared some parallels and lessons for development professionals to reflect on.
Protecting biodiversity in solidarity
If 75% of all infectious diseases come from animals and wildlife exploitation
and destruction of natural habitats, then we humans need to reconsider our role in this current crisis just as in climate change. It seems like the more we keep encroaching, the more problems we create for ourselves and for the planet, Diseases like Ebola, Sars and Nipah have been linked to bats, who live mostly in the forests we continue to destroy. Many wildlife groups are calling for an outright ban or a more precautionary approach
on wildlife trade, with other groups are pushing for more meat free diets. To me veganism, to save the planet and avoid zoonotic diseases, sounds simplistic. Although it offers a good way to impact on both the climate and COVID-19 crises it is privileged. I personally advocate for flexitarianism
where people intentionally cut meat out of their diets. I believe that small individual acts done by several people can cause massive change- think tree planting and recycling for climate change and hand washing and social distancing for COVID-19. Responses to both crises are all about solidarity and protecting biodiversity.
"The Corona crisis is a 100-meter race and the climate crisis is a marathon. We have to run both at the same time” – Victor Galaz
Repurposing the economy
Both the climate change and COVID-19 crises send warning alarms on the urgent need to repurpose our fossil driven economy. Just a few weeks into the lock down, China, the largest carbon emitter in the world was able to conserve up to half
of the heat trapping pollution the United Kingdom burns in a whole year. Even better; the air in China got so clean, it could be seen from space
! The present global economy built on capitalism and over-consumption does not help life on and for the planet. Seeing people hoard items in stores and even businesses raise prices just to profit more from the COVID-19 crisis should tell us what is to come if we continue business as usual post COVID-19. We need to repurpose the economy: As we rebuild, we must invest in resilient systems and public infrastructure that support the most vulnerable, who suffer both in both climate disasters and this present COVID-19 disaster. COVID-19 has magnified existing inequalities and shown us that more needs to be done, in responsible and equitable ways.
Good leadership backed by science
We rely on science to understand ways to tackle climate change and COVID-19 efficiently. Yet, some leaders consistently choose to ignore or delay scientific warnings and predictions. This delay, as we have seen with COVID-19 – leads to loss of lives, money and puts pressure on systems. With climate change, we have a clear science indicative of human impacts on climate change, and yet, non-binding agreements yield to little results as the situation continues to worsen. It has been interesting to see some of the regular big emitters like Brazil and America toll the same line with COVID-19 responses.
What we are seeing is that delay is very dangerous in both crises. For example, health systems of some countries are already overwhelmed because of late planning, ignored science and other relevant but often less popular perspectives. As we have seen, good leadership for any crises will need to be more decisive, transparent, accountable and just. It has been impressive to see more female leaders
doing just this in the ways they have handled the COVID-19 crisis.
Climate action in a post-COVID world
Despite these parallels, it is important to note that COVID-19 is only a small reflection of the catastrophe climate change could potentially bring to the world, particularly for poor people. We know this because plans are already underway for a post-COVID world. We know it is possible to move from this pandemic to a new way of living. Although the acuteness and uncertainty of COVID-19 makes it scary, climate change still presents complexities that even climate change specialists still grapple with.
I hope we all use the lessons from the global response to COVID-19 to begin to take climate action more seriously and see it as a development challenge that requires a more intentional and inclusive approach.
Images by Bernard Kalu - https://www.bernardkalu.com/