To save the future, we must make history now
COVID-19 robbed us of a historic year of climate and nature action – we have to take it back.
As the expression goes, “Time waits for no-one”. And neither does Mother Nature when faced with humanity's lamentable response to the climate and environment crisis.
This year we’ve watched in horror as disasters have wrought havoc across the globe, with children in poor, vulnerable communities bearing the brunt.
We’ve had catastrophic fires in Australia and the west coast of the States. Then there were the record number of storms to make landfall in the US. Here in Asia, devastating floods have blighted millions of lives in India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Last week’s terrifyingly massive storm in the Philippines, the strongest storm to make landfall anywhere in the world this year so far, quickly faded from the international news agenda.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought us to our knees. Indeed, COVID-19 – a virus of animal origin – has reminded us that the way we live and plunder our resources puts us on course for further degradation of nature and future pandemics exacerbated by a mounting climate crisis. Humanity is in trouble.
Today was meant to see the start of one of the most important conferences in the history to address the global climate crisis – the UN COP26 climate change talks in the Scottish city of Glasgow.
There were high hopes for the talks. They were to follow a ‘super-charged year of climate and nature action’, one of humanity’s fading chances to rally world leaders to help climate vulnerable communities and fragile ecosystems.
Make no mistake, we are running out of time. British wildlife expert Sir David Attenborough put it best when he said recently, “Our planet is heading for disaster. In the end it has to be a political decision to save the world. The future of the world depends on it.”
Teenage climate activists like Greta Thunberg – and children across the globe – eyed the talks keenly, as did agencies such as Save the Children and WWF.
At the talks, campaigners hoped world leaders would make history: demonstrating the collective will and ambition to ensure a carbon neutral, nature positive and equitable future for all.
We hoped that States would double down on climate finance, which the UN reports as insufficient either to mitigate carbon emissions or help the most climate vulnerable countries to adapt; high carbon-emitting nations would commit to greater cuts; and countries would act to avoid a climate catastrophe that threatens to shake the foundations of human civilisation and decimate life on our planet.
Then the pandemic brought the world to a screeching halt. The COP26 climate talks, as well as landmark UN COP15 talks on biodiversity loss to be held in Kunming, China, have been postponed to 2021.
But the climate crisis respects our diaries as much as COVID-19 respects our borders. We know from experience around the world that the most vulnerable communities and ecosystems are already struggling to cope with the impacts of the tightly bound climate, nature and health crises.
As the World Bank warned, those impacts could push an additional 100 people million into poverty by the end of the decade. The consequences for children’s learning, health and future economic activity will be immense.
That’s why, nearly five years since the historic Paris Agreement, a deal that united world leaders to tackle the climate crisis, we implore governments to do more. More to help families whose lives are and will continue to be impacted by more severe, droughts, heatwaves, floods and storms. More to protect fragile ecosystems that are under threat as global heating accelerates mass species extinction.
As an absolute minimum, rich countries must give more climate finance to poor nations that have contributed the least to the climate crisis. Without substantial increases in financing, climate commitments and policies will remain empty promises.
Collectively, rich countries are nowhere near this target – although they quickly found vast sums of money to try and protect people and economies from COVID-19. But these are not competing priorities. A green COVID-19 recovery that restores both jobs and our environment is a win-win opportunity that governments must not miss.
For humanity’s sake and for every other living organism on the planet, let's meet this challenge. COP26 and COP15 on biodiversity have been delayed but there is still time to make history – if we act now.