Amid the pandemic, the climate crisis takes the backseat. How can we stay on track?
The COVID-19 pandemic has stirred up a global crisis, causing disruptions to public health systems and economies. With governments focused on survival, several climate hazards which have intersected with the onset of the pandemic have been overshadowed.
In the Nature article, Compound climate risks in the COVID-19 pandemic, these hazards and how we can prepare for them are brought into light. Let’s discuss the main points.
In the graphic above, Nature pinpoints the climate-related risks that different parts of the world might experience or are already experiencing over the next 12 to 18 months.
Right now, the most visible sources of interruption are storms, flooding, and droughts. The hurricane season has started in the United States. South Africa, on the other hand, has been experiencing drought for years now. Being the hottest year on record, forest fires are expected to remain as a threat in the U.S., Europe, and Australia, among others.
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On top of all these hazards, geopolitical tensions are also putting displaced populations at risk.
Apart from an immediate pandemic response, the authors also emphasise the importance of policy measures that ensure the continuity of basic services like electricity, water, and other utilities.
These measures include an expanded budget for the short-term and investing in climate resilience infrastructure for the long run. By doing so, the losses due to these compounded risks can be minimised.
Cooperation across institutions and governments is also necessary to develop a comprehensive compound risk preparedness plan which would address both general and unique vulnerabilities.
Building climate resilience
The authors also brought into attention the vulnerability of existing governance and institutional infrastructures related to risk assessments to compartmentalization.
A shift towards interdisciplinary, cross-sectoral risk assessments would eliminate the gross oversimplification of the interrelatedness of different climate risks and challenges. More focus should also be given to pre-disaster preparedness instead of funnelling all the attention towards disaster response.
Structural racism and systemic inequities should also be addressed since these amplify the risk for the people of colour and the economically vulnerable both in pandemics and in climate change.
Universal and affordable health coverage, for instance, would reduce the vulnerability of our health systems and also better prepare us for climate-related risks.
Lastly, laying down supporting legal and institutional frameworks is also critical in ensuring that our right to health is fulfilled. Laws, policies, and budgets should be created with the intention to strengthen climate change adaptation and pandemic preparedness.
“Robust global cooperation and governance with a human rights-centred approach — supported by appropriate legal and institutional frameworks — is a prerequisite for successfully confronting these multi-dimensional, overlapping challenges with integrated solutions,” said the authors.
Phillips, C.A., Caldas, A., Cleetus, R. et al. Compound climate risks in the COVID-19 pandemic. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 586–588 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0804-2