How the COVID-19 fight could be a blueprint for successful Climate Change action

The new normal can take a more sustainable approach.

For decades now, Climate Change has been a hot-button issue, sparking raging debates between activists pushing for solutions and naysayers denying its very existence. Global conferences, policy motions and research studies are among the many endeavours undertaken to convey the dangers of climate change, raise public awareness and advocate mitigating measures.

Yet, despite almost every person on earth witnessing some drastic change affected by climate change in their lifetime alone, there has never risen a unified global call to action. Perhaps this is because people associate climate change only with sudden but sporadic natural disasters; or believe that a single voice cannot make a difference to such a big cause.

Conversely, some of the relatively unaffected population sees climate change as a local problem to specific regions and irrelevant to their part of the world. 

In the absence of any commonality or unifying emotion, it is difficult to rally the interest and involvement of the masses – only when we think as ‘one’ do we act as one. And that’s what the Corona Virus made happen.

For the first time in history, the whole world stood united against a fearful unknown, taking individual and collective action in a global battle on a scale that we have never seen before. The COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing lockdown has prompted us to adopt more innovative ways of managing daily life, facing challenges and sustaining with minimal resources.

More significantly, it has taught us to value humanity and live in solidarity with one another. The pandemic has affected individual life at every level; from daily wagers to MNC employees, from homemakers to community leaders, from farmers to small shop owners to CEOs.

This unprecedented situation has served to highlight other social issues and their collateral impact in the current scenario – inequalities, gender issues, increasing burden on care givers and gender based violence, to name a few. It has also refocused attention on the importance of environment protection and climate change.

Across the world, we are experiencing a dramatic drop in air and noise pollution, clearer skies and an emergence of uncommon wildlife sightings. In India, the Central Pollution Control Board reported that about 78% of Indian cities now came under the ‘good and satisfactory’ categories of the Air Quality Index (AQI) bulletin.

Considering this figure was 44% before the lockdown came into effect, it can be conclusively said that transport, industries, power plants, construction and road dust are the primary reasons for low air quality in urban areas. 

While the easing of the lockdown will certainly be welcome, there remains the lurking fear that people will soon revert to old habits and lifestyles; namely free movement and interaction which could result in another outbreak. The reduced emission levels may also increase two-fold once the lockdown is lifted; and this sudden spike could cause health issues for most people.

This worldwide crisis has revealed we are unprepared for the unknown; all the more reason to mitigate known global risks like climate change and avert its foreseeable consequences. 

For while COVID-19 and climate change are separate issues, both hit the most vulnerable and marginalized sections of society the hardest, consequently provoking the need for systemic and behavioural changes and calling for cohesive, collective, cross-border action. 

So rather than pausing climate change efforts while attempting to neutralize the Corona threat, we should instead seize the opportunity to introduce and habituate people with the new ‘normal’ – a lifestyle that is both healthy and earth-friendly.

We have to find long term, strategic and sustainable ways of helping both our economy and planet heal and this is just the right time to do so. 

As evidenced in the past two months, people have proven their capacity to adapt both as individuals and as a community to the norms and practices advised by their governing authorities. There is a lot of learning in these experiences that we could apply to potential concerns in the future as well. 

First and foremost, social distancing, strict hygiene, movement restrictions and economical consumption are a few individual actions that have reduced the spread of coronavirus. Similarly, small changes in our habits or lifestyles, even on an individual level, can help address climate change issues.

The Government’s timely intervention and imposed restrictions, the collective public action by different stakeholders and authorities, the supplementary services provided by NGOs, social workers and concerned citizens; have all worked in unison to halt the spread of the virus. 

As evidenced in the case of COVID-19 and pertinent to the cause of climate change, a collective response always yields better results than silo functioning in any cohesive global effort. The bane of COVID-19 efforts has been the inadequate medical infrastructure and support – an area which governments are now hastening to address. 

Here as well we have a parallel. We must push governments to focus attention on the dangers and safeguards for tackling heat waves, extreme weather situations, unseasonal rains and risky environmental diseases (ENVD) caused by climate change. 

The pandemic has also evoked intergenerational reactions and concerns – a vital aspect of any global discourse that needs to translate into universal action. The growing dialogue between children and parents, young and old, can extend into climate discourse and lead to nuanced long-term solutions.

Online or distance education is on the rise and here to stay; and this focused learning environment is perfect for instilling students with civic sense, healthy habits, a sense of sustainable living and an understanding of climate change. These lessons should be standard inclusions in any educational curriculum because they are what will teach the next generation how to survive in the world we leave for them. 

False information has abounded during the COVID-19 crisis and we are quickly learning how to avoid being swayed and listen only to the experts on the matter. This is something we need to do for climate action as well – invest in concrete scientific research for social sharing to encourage practical, feasible and replicable actions.

India saw a 20% fall in power consumption during lockdown despite more indoor habitation! A study of demand and supply during this period could aid our understanding and efforts in phasing out fossil fuels and investing in a cleaner energy system. Strong political will, sufficient investment, effective research and accurate monitoring measures can work in unison to combat both COVID-19 and Climate Change. 

While the former emerged as a sudden threat, we have known of the dangers of the latter for decades now – science has proved that temperatures will rise further and climate change will continue to adversely affect our world until we take immediate action to curb its effects. 

We know what causes it, we know how we can fix it. It’s time we did it. 

Kalyani Raj

Kalyani Raj has a vast experience in the financial sector in India and HongKong. She is also a Gender & Climate change expert volunteering with the AIWC for last 20 years.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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