UNSG: We must act decisively to protect our planet from coronavirus and existential threat of climate disruption

UNSG: We must act decisively to protect our planet from coronavirus and existential threat of climate disruption
22 April 2020

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres today put forward six climate-related actions to shape recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and turn the process into “a real opportunity to do things right for the future.”

Point number one on the list, “as we spend huge amounts of money to recover from the coronavirus,” is delivering “new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition.”

In an address released to mark International Mother Earth Day, Mr Guterres said COVID-19 constituted “the biggest test the world has faced since the Second World War.”

The UN Secretary General said: “The impact of the coronavirus is both immediate and dreadful. But there is another, deep emergency – the planet’s unfolding environmental crisis.

“Climate disruption is approaching a point of no return. We must act decisively to protect our planet from both the coronavirus and the existential threat of climate disruption. The current crisis is an unprecedented wake-up call.”

                         ‘I’m just hoping we can put a narrative
                      out there that these things
                      are not fighting each other’

In some of his other points for the pandemic recovery phase, Mr Guterres said public money should drive a “green economy, and make societies and people more resilient”; it should flow to sustainable sectors and projects that help the environment and the climate, and fossil-fuel subsidies must end.

“At this challenging time of COVID the very same people who are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change are also the ones at risk of being affected by the virus,” the IFRC’s Kara Devonna Siahaan today told an online RedTalk panel also held to coincide with Earth Day.

“They are the people who don’t have sufficient access to healthcare, people who are unable to physically distance themselves, living in slums, in cramped dormitories for migrants or refugee camps,” added Ms Siahaan, who is the IFRC’s Geneva-based Senior Officer, Forecast-based Financing.

“Not only is the workload of Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers massively increasing,” she told the panel, which was moderated by Climate Centre Director Maarten van Aalst and organized by the IFRC-hosted REAP partnership, “but restrictions in place [for coronavirus] make their work even more challenging.”

Land use?

Vitumbiko Chinoko, CARE International’s Advcacy and Partnerships Coordinator, told the RedTalk that he hoped the plans for climate that the international community is due to put forward later this year “are no less ambitious” than they would have been without COVID-19.

Given that developed nations were among the worst affected by the pandemic, Mr Chinoko said, his feared “it would be very hard to push for a climate-financing argument.

“I’m just hoping we can put a narrative out there that these things are not fighting each other, but they actually complement each other.”

The panel – entitled COVID-19: Climate Action During a Pandemic and webcast on LinkedIn – also included Christina Bennett of the Start Network and Loretta Hieber Girardet, Chief of Regional Office for Asia Pacific at United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Echoing the UN Secretary General’s comments, Andrew Norton, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, said in an IIED press release marking Earth Day that: “Land-use change and deforestation…heighten the risk of further pandemics by bringing humans into contact with new threats such as the coronavirus.

“Every species lost is an irreversible event that decreases the resilience of natural and human systems on a permanent basis.”

He added: “Another world is possible [but] Earth Day is a reminder – if one is needed – that the world needs determined collective action to combat the destruction of the nature and climate on which all life depends.”

The UN Security Council last week holding a video conference on Yemen, a highly vulnerable war-torn nation also now facing serious climate impacts that recently recorded its first case of COVID-19. (Photo: Eskinder Debebe/UN)