Climate change: World mustn’t forget ‘deeper emergency’

Despite the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the world mustn’t forget the “deeper environmental emergency” facing the planet. That’s the view of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in remarks released to celebrate Earth Day. The toll taken by the virus is both “immediate and dreadful”, Mr Guterres says.

But the crisis is also a wake-up call, “to do things right for the future,” said the Secretary General.

Mr Guterres re-iterated his view that the coronavirus is the biggest challenge the world has faced since the Second World War.

But as the world commemorates the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the planet’s “unfolding environmental crisis” is an “even deeper emergency”, he says.

“Biodiversity is in steep decline,” Mr Guterres stated.

“Climate disruption is approaching a point of no return.

“We must act decisively to protect our planet from both the coronavirus and the existential threat of climate disruption.”

A long-term advocate of strong action to tackle global heating, Mr Guterres is now proposing six climate-related actions that should shape the recovery after the virus.

The world has to deliver new jobs and businesses through a “clean, green transition”.

Taxpayers’ money, when it is used, “needs to be tied to achieving green jobs and sustainable growth”.

Money must be used to make people and societies more resilient to climate change, he says.

“Public funds should be used to invest in the future not the past.”

Fossil fuel subsidies from governments is a theme that Mr Guterres has highlighted many times. These must end he says, and polluters must pay for their pollution.

The world will need to work together, says the Secretary General, and climate risks will need to be factored into the financial system and be at the heart of all public policy.

The links between climate change and the coronavirus have also been highlighted by many observers and experts in the field.

“While the pandemic will lead to a temporary dip in global greenhouse gas emissions, this must not distract from the urgent need for rapid fundamental changes in infrastructure, energy, land use and industrial systems to set us on a path to net zero emissions globally by 2050 at the latest,” said Andrew Norton, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

“Land use change and deforestation are primary global drivers of biodiversity destruction. They heighten the risk of further pandemics by bringing humans into contact with new threats such as the coronavirus. Every species lost is an irreversible event that decreases the resilience of natural and human systems on a permanent basis.”

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which was first established on April 22 1970, many researchers are keen to highlight how the threats to the planet have grown over time.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is a reminder that our existence on Earth is fragile,” said Dr Karen O’Neill, from Rutgers University in the US.

“Environmentalism since that first Earth Day has expanded to recognise links between human health and ecosystems.”

“Degraded environments and pollution make us more likely to encounter novel viruses and to be more vulnerable to those viruses when they start to circulate.”