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COVID-19 lessons offer hope for global efforts to address climate change impacts

Niger reports new polio outbreak
Niger reports new polio outbreak

COVID-19 lessons offer hope for global efforts to address climate change impacts

1 May 2020

Lessons learned from the global response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic give positive signals on how the world can deal with the devastating impacts of climate change.

In a contribution to an ECA publication on COVID-19, the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) says while momentum on climate action may be hampered by the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, the way the world has responded to the pandemic may help the global response in dealing with the existential threat of climate change.

Governments across the board have taken swift actions to deal with the pandemic, including financial stimulus and support packages, and there has been great solidarity between countries and between communities, the medical profession and the science community with data sharing and support across borders.

“The global response to tackling climate change and building more resilient economies and societies will depend very much on how countries also take swift and transformative actions towards closing the financing gap to address climate change, especially given that the nationally determined contributions to climate action (NDCs) of most African countries depend substantially on the availability of climate finance and  African countries already have less fiscal space to be able to inject stimulus into their economies," reads the paper.

While in the short term developed countries may be constrained to meet their climate finance obligations under the Paris Agreement, innovative ways need to be explored to ensure action on climate change does not relent post-COVID-19.

Strategies, including debt relief for African countries as well as innovations in mobilizing private sector finance to address climate change have become even more urgent, says the ACPC. 

In terms of mobilizing private sector finance, the ECA’s SDG7 Initiative for Africa, which is already being piloted in a few countries, can support African countries to review their NDCs to increase bankable clean energy actions that could be fully financed from private sector resources.

This is particularly relevant and timely in 2020 as all Parties to the Paris Agreement are required to submit revised or new NDCs.

Building long term development strategies post-COVID-19 that are focussed on low carbon climate-resilient development pathways bring multiple wins for society, economies and the environment, the ACPC adds.

With the inevitable rise in unemployment that the economic impacts of Covid-19 will result in, an African economic rebound based on resilience and powered by the continent’s abundant clean energy resources will create more jobs, enhance trade and contribute to global climate action, while addressing the continent’s chronic energy access deficit.

This, the paper emphasizes, will also strengthen the ability of countries to deal with other shocks that will come.

In a recent opinion piece, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said; “the impact of the coronavirus is immediate and dreadful. We must act now and we must act together. Just as we must act together to address another urgent global emergency that we must not lose sight of — climate change.t”.

In addition to the public health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a big slowdown in the global economy, resulting in improved air quality and reduced emissions, particularly in China and Western economies, with emissions in China temporarily reducing by as much as 25 percent.

The ACPC notes that emissions reduction is only a temporary situation and there is a risk that emissions could increase substantially as economic activity picks up post-COVID-19, just as was the case post the 2008 financial crisis.

It adds that emissions must decline substantially over this Decade of Action on the sustainable development goals to 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050 if the world is to stay on track to reach the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

COVID-19, as a zoonotic disease, is a harbinger of things to come in the absence of urgent global actions to tackle climate change, which may claim a lot more people than recent pandemics, says the ACPC, especially as rural-urban migration continues and climate change continues to cause loss of natural habitats and force humans to encroach more into these habitats for energy and other needs.