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13 April 2024

Virus should be a wake-up call to every government and individual

Photo: WAM


Global warming and the destruction of the natural world for farming, mining, and housing have forced more contact between animals and people. This brings imminent danger to humanity, given that 75% of all emerging infectious diseases come from wildlife.

A new study on the impact of Covid-19 on the environment and climate change notes that the global pandemic should serve as a wake-up call to every government and every individual on this planet. As tragic as the past few weeks have been, the pandemic has taught mankind crucial lessons how to tackle climate change and survive.

The study was developed by Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, and Ibrahim Al-Zu’bi, Chief Sustainability Officer at Majid Al Futtaim Holding.

According to the study, the first lesson that humanity must learn is: "If one of us falls, we all fall." Humans are neither immune to the coronavirus nor climate change. Mankind is only as safe as the most vulnerable people. In the modern world, geography will not stop global challenges from spreading. These challenges will require systemic changes, not only by governments or companies but also individuals. They will need global collective action.

Similar to Covid-19, each ton of greenhouse gas contributes equally to the problem of climate change. Even if one country or continent enacts laws to address this threat, there will be little benefit unless everyone does the same.

Lesson two is: "Prevention is better than cure." A 2012 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stated that implementing climate change mitigation measures sufficient for limiting the temperature increase to 2 C would only slightly affect future economic growth compared to inaction. This is a very small ‘prevention price’ to pay, especially when considering the potential cure needed for the climate change impact. The world might simply not be able to afford it when the time comes. Prevention is critical today, and so is early action. Covid-19 has made that clear.

Lesson three highlights the significance of ensuring that the public understands and learns about the gravity of the situation. Awareness about the seriousness of the coronavirus has been vital in curbing the spread of the outbreak in some countries. However, with disparities on how people in different countries view the importance of tackling climate change, global action is almost impossible.

If governments can take extreme actions to shut down workplaces and restrict movement, surely they can take similarly drastic steps to change how the world produces and consumes energy. Measures do not have to be as abrupt or as severe, but concerted global action is indeed possible. The coronavirus showed a level of global coordination that has not been witnessed before, whether from governments, institutions, or social networks. With similar actions, nothing is impossible. Here is where lesson four – the power of global focus – comes in.

Lesson five points out that people from around the world are anxious to hear about new remedies for the coronavirus and the advice of epidemiologists to prevent them from getting infected. Likewise, governments and individuals need to start listening to climate change experts and join the battle to ‘flatten the curve’ of a certain future threat if no action is taken.

Lesson six is about changing behaviors. As people have acknowledged the need to adjust their lifestyles to reduce the number of cases infected with Covid-19, from avoiding handshakes and working from home to using bikes to commute from one place to another, the prospect is bright for a larger shift to a ‘greener’ behavior too.

The world now has a new baseline for what can be achieved collectively. Lesson seven notes that governments and individuals now understand the power of technology and online presence in telecommunication, education, retail, and other sectors. This opens a wealth of opportunities to fight climate change.

The final takeaway is that we can, and should, imagine options for a sustainable future. As governments are designing stimulus packages to tackle the economic downturn due to Covid-19, people should advocate for these to be green packages. The shutdown of most human production and transport activities has caused carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to decrease in several countries across the globe. Such a drop has not been witnessed since the global financial crisis in 2009. OECD’s post-coronavirus growth projections imply that the emissions may decline by 0.3%-1.2% in 2020.

The study concludes with the view that addressing climate change should not require a global pandemic that kills hundreds of thousands and puts millions in financial and mental distress. The way countries of the world cooperate with one another and respond to Covid-19 should serve as a yardstick to how they approach climate change, which will eventually shape the future.