Ramsha Nadeem works as Project Coordinator at Greenbox, a youth-driven engagement lab nurturing sustainability leadership in Pakistan.
COVID-19 and climate change are two very different threats, but they share a common ground. They are both global issues and do not respect boundaries.
The outbreak of coronavirus shocked the world and brought with it a pandemonium of unpredictable and unprecedented changes. The virus has infected over
25.1 million people and taken the lives of over 884,000 people worldwide since it first appeared in China’s Wuhan province. The pandemic has forced policymakers to strike a balance between public safety, ensuring economic stability and development goals. As the pandemic surged, it not only resulted in the economic destabilization of
most countries but the deterioration of health systems, which caused widespread and wanton death resulting in countries going into lockdown.
In the case of Pakistan, the aura of doom, gloom and fear remained prevalent as COVID-19 cases soared in June 2020. Since the beginning of the epidemic, 13 and 19 June experienced the highest number of new infections as cases rose to 6,895 and 4,994. Hospitals were swarming with patients, incidents of oxygen shortages and medical supplies were common and anxious talk about stories of friends and family who had tested positive added to the panic. In some instances, whole families were affected and it was a struggle to find rooms in hospitals as they were overcrowded. Despite the unparalleled steps taken by governments and international institutions around
the world, it still left some of us worrying about another immediate global problem, climate change.
COVID-19 and climate change are two very different threats, but they share a common ground. They are both global issues and do not respect boundaries. Therefore, they require countries working in consort with each other to come up with solutions. The pandemic has shown how critical it is to be ready when a crisis strikes. It has also shown us the consequences of delaying timely action
and the magnitude of its aftermath. We are even less capable and ill-equipped to address the ongoing and rising threats, such as climate change, biodiversity disruption, environmental damage at the behest of mankind’s progress, ocean acidification, pollution, etc as we were for the COVID-19 crisis. Climate change is affecting the world in multiple ways and while these changes might not be noticeable or tangible for some of us, they are still taking place. Any threshold, whether it is the concentration of greenhouse gases, loss of insect species or melting glacial ice, may also make the changes irreversible once we cross the tipping point. And since we do not receive regular updates on the casualty count caused by climate change, it is much deadlier in the long term as compared to COVID-19.
Following the UN Sustainable Development Targets, carbon mitigation programmes, gradual ecological efficiencies and vegan diets for the rich are good initiatives on paper but they do
not permanently curtail climate issues as they do not regulate and control mass industrial manufacturing and consumption, but merely shift the focus. Such interventions have not been very successful because they do not bring about any change in our consumer-oriented and fast-paced lives, which we need to slow down by reducing our dependence on cars and plastics and focus on reducing pollution through an eco-friendly green approach. The proactive approach to COVID-19, worldwide, demonstrates society’s remarkable ability to work in unison by circumventing or controlling the crisis. It proves that if we want, we can take radical measures and achieve what we set out for. Lockdown policies have significantly contributed
to decreasing greenhouse gas and toxin emissions. For instance, during the lockdown period, China saw a 25 per cent fall in carbon dioxide levels and a 37 per cent reduction in nitrogen dioxide emissions.
However, this slight reduction in greenhouse gas emissions should not be a reason to rejoice. Indeed, millions of people have faced the economic consequences of lockdowns around the world and millions are expected to fight the downturn caused by the outbreak. Considering the
takeaways from the pandemic, we must make sure that climate change solutions ensure that the poor and most vulnerable are safe and incorporated in our pandemic response strategies. This will not only reverse the global crisis we are already living through but also reduce the possibility of new pandemics. Economic reforms to incorporate ‘planned growth,’ which puts the welfare of people above profits, should be part of the climate transition. The first step is
to ensure that aid packages governments launch worldwide are not wasted. We must avoid a situation where large scale corporations and state players are allowed to rule openly, driven entirely by the motive to make profit. We must also recommend that state funds are allocated equally for development of renewable energy to begin the green new agreement and generate substantial new jobs in the aftermath of COVID-19. Simultaneously, we need to ensure
that universal healthcare and free schooling is offered, thereby social protection for all the vulnerable.
The lifestyle changes that we have wholly embraced due to COVID-19 can be a lesson for us all. It can make us familiar with living habits and work patterns that focus on minimalism. That could allow us to use less transport, minimize wastage, have shorter work hours, and rely more on local supply chains actors, which do not damage the ecosystem but move businesses from a globalized pattern to a more localized one. Obviously, the circumstances created by COVID-19 are not ideal, but the swift and immediate response to the virus and encouraging examples of collective help demonstrates that the world is already on route to working together in the face of adversity.