Classes discovered from COVID-19 may also help us struggle local weather change | Opinions
The urgent need to develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine and make it available to everyone everywhere to end the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has resulted in rare collaborations between world governments, scientists, and private drug makers.
The economic and social devastation caused by this catastrophic global public health emergency not only underscored the importance of multilateral international cooperation, but also forced us to recognize the obvious social and economic inequalities that existed in both rich and in poor countries exist.
The pandemic has shown us what happens when political leaders lay off science and refuse to take the steps necessary to protect all of its citizens and the rest of humanity from public health crises and other natural disasters. Hundreds of thousands of lives and livelihoods unnecessarily lost to this disease should serve as a warning not to repeat the mistakes of the recent past and be prepared for similar threats that no doubt await us in the future.
While we don’t know what disease outbreaks we could face in the years to come, there is one threat that we know is already on our doorstep: climate change.
To date, climate change is the greatest threat to global economic and social stability. Scientists say we have a critical and rapidly closing window of time to contain the devastating effects of climate change by limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
We know what happens when science is ignored – we have seen the consequences if we fail to take warnings from scientists seriously in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. And we’re already paying the price for ignoring climate science – there are more fires, floods, droughts and other unpredictable weather events around the world today than ever before.
While climate change is undoubtedly a global problem, the African continent is expected to be the region hardest hit by its consequences.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently warned that 2016-2020 is likely to be the warmest five-year period in Africa and has rang alarm bells for the fate of the continent’s agriculture, public health systems, water resources and disaster management. A Greenpeace report released earlier this year warned that if the temperature rise caused by global warming is not kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius, extreme heat will become the new normal in most countries on the continent. If global temperatures rise by just 1.5 degrees Celsius, people in the city of Lagos, Nigeria, would suffer from heat stress for the first time, as would Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. If the temperature rise hits 4 degrees Celsius, Luanda in Angola and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo will also face heat stress, according to the report.
Like COVID-19, climate change is not a hidden threat. Thanks to the efforts of scientists and environmental activists around the world, the international community is aware that unless swift action is taken, climate change will destroy populations and economies around the world. For this reason, 194 countries and the European Union have signed and ratified the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
While political leaders and policymakers may need scientific reports and information to understand the severity of the impending threat, the risks to rural communities and indigenous peoples in Africa and around the world, as well as many of my fellow Chadians, are far from theoretical. Every farmer and shepherd in Africa knows the bottom line without reading academic studies and examining climate models: the weather changes and it changes quickly.
In my country, Chad, more than half of the people are affected by floods, droughts and extreme heat. In the Sahel, the rich and poor, young and old, who live in cities and rural communities, are directly experiencing the effects of climate change.
Much has been said about the economic hardships created by the temporary border closings caused by COVID-19, especially in landlocked countries like mine. However, for nomadic pastoralists in the Sahel, who routinely have to cross the border, these closings presented only minor additional challenges. In the past few months, the Sahel has seen some of the worst flooding in recent history. The borders were closed and life was put on hold not by any government, but by raging floods. According to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, 700,000 people were displaced and otherwise affected by this year’s floods.
Just like COVID-19, climate change is destroying lives and ruining livelihoods around the world on a daily basis. But the media is not paying the same attention to this crisis. While a simple Google search can tell you the daily death toll or coronavirus infection rates in a given African country, it’s nearly impossible to get up-to-date, detailed data on the impact of the climate crisis on the continent. Nobody bothered to count the lives lost and destroyed by climate change. And if you don’t count, if you don’t make everyone aware of the extent of the crisis, you cannot resolve the crisis.
The weather disasters in Africa often receive minimal media coverage. TV channels and newspapers cover a disaster for a few days, publish the death toll and some statistics on the estimated economic damage, and move on to another story. For those affected, however, the disaster is just the beginning. When their crops disappear under floods or pastures go up in flames, hunger becomes a daily reality for communities. The natural resources they rely on to survive are dwindling, water is becoming scarce and all of these often lead to heightened tension and conflict. Houses, schools and marketplaces destroyed by natural disasters have been in ruins for years, increasing homelessness. With the destruction of health and sanitation infrastructures combined with rising temperatures, diseases such as malaria and typhoid are widespread and the fighting communities are further devastated.
During the pandemic, Sahel governments tried to use public advertising to educate the public to wash their hands and stay socially aloof in order to contain the spread of the virus. They even imposed bans and punished those who violated the new rules. However, when floods and droughts caused by global warming engulf our region and devastate our people, they don’t issue similar warnings or take precautionary measures. They only offer their prayers and thank all donors for their help. Of course, there is nothing wrong with praying or handing out a bag of rice to a hungry family, but are you really doing something to prevent similar disasters in the future? Are you implementing the necessary measures to prevent global warming?
If we don’t act and act quickly, by the end of this century we will see temperatures that are up to 6 degrees Celsius higher than today. The future of all our children, the future of all humanity, is at risk. To do this, we must all be leaders and take our own destiny into our own hands. We must demand that our governments declare a climate emergency and take action. We also need to be open to adjustments in our way of life. We don’t have to be brave – we just have to be realistic. If we don’t adapt, global warming will destroy us: with cyclones, flash floods, droughts, fires, extreme heat waves and forest fires.
As we finally near the end of the coronavirus pandemic and governments are making plans to rebuild economies devastated by this global health crisis, we must make climate change our new focus. In the Sahel region in particular, where the devastating effects of climate change are already being felt by many, it is time to declare a climate emergency and initiate a “green” recovery that should not only help the masses affected by COVID-19. but also millions of others are suffering from climate change.
Reinventing the economy as climate neutral requires strong political leadership and collaboration between governments and the private sector. But we, the people, can also do a lot to bring about change. We can ask our leaders to make the climate emergency a political priority. We can make small changes to our own lives to help protect the environment. We can support those who are actively fighting for climate justice.
Unfortunately, we cannot defeat climate change simply by isolating ourselves in our homes, wearing masks and making a vaccine. To combat climate change, we need to build an entirely new political and economic system that does not protect the fossil fuel industry – a new system that can bring economic prosperity while protecting biodiversity and reducing CO2 emissions.
Fortunately, it’s not too late. We can continue to prevent deforestation, restore destroyed ecosystems and manage our land in a way that not only increases productivity, but also protects the lives and livelihoods of indigenous peoples. By listening to scientists and working together, we have come a long way to defeat COVID-19. We must now use the lessons of this pandemic to help tackle the climate emergency.
The views expressed in this article are from the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.