COVID-19 or Climate Change: Who is the real killer?

Bipasha Saikia and Bishaldeep Kakati

The global doors of connectivity have been locked up owing to the outbreak of COVID-19. The race to flatten the pandemic curve can be learnt from the drastic containment measures by governments across the globe. The acute seriousness shown towards COVID-19 has also raised questions on the casual approach of the world community to the parallel threat of climate change.

If we analyze the lingering threats to the mortal world, climate change tops the list. Theoretically speaking, climate change is the catch-all term for the shift in the worldwide weather phenomena associated with an increase in the global average temperature. NASA defines it as: “a broad range of global phenomena created predominantly by burning fossil fuels, which add heat-trapping gases to Earth’s atmosphere…that encompass changes such as sea level rise; ice mass loss in Greenland, Antarctica, the Arctic and mountain glaciers worldwide; …and extreme weather events.” Recent voices from the United Nations have warned that we are left with a mere decade to prevent irreversible damage from climate change.

The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, a major cause of species extinction. Melting polar caps are distorting the Earth’s equilibrium by not reflecting the sunlight back into space. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment shows that Greenland lost an average of 286 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2016, while Antarctic lost about 127 billion tons of ice per year during the same time period. Glaciers over Himalayas, Alps, Andes, Rockies and Alaska are retreating and satellite observations show that the snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased over the past five decades. Sea level rose about 8 inches in the last century, threatening low-lying areas. Acidification of oceans, known as ‘carbon sinks’ acidification is posing a serious threat to underwater life. Stepping into the 21st century, catastrophic events like hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis etc. are becoming everyday occurrences. As per World Disaster Report of 2011, from 2001 -2010, a whopping 13,13,183 people have been reportedly killed due to natural disasters and a staggering 267,64,16,290 have been injured. According to the World Health Organization, “climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year” between 2030 and 2050.The practical evidence of the effects of climate change indeed paints a petrifying picture of an approaching doomsday.

The only difference between the global phenomena of climate change and COVID-19 is that- to the human eyes, the effects of climate change are prolonged and seems to be happening at a much slower rate because of which we are casual about the negative repercussions of it unlike the conspicuous deadly outcome of COVID-19, that is pushing humanity to act in an emergency-mode. If predictions are to go by, it cannot be denied that in the longer run, the calamitous impact of climate change would create a scenario even more dangerous than that of COVID-19.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was categorical to point out that climate change is real and humans are the cause behind this. At the historic Earth Summit, 1992, the world community came together to prevent “dangerous” human interference with the climate system. The Kyoto Protocol, 1995, the world’s first green house gas (GHG) emission reduction treaty, being ratified by 197 Parties was instrumental in legally binding countries to observe reduced emission targets. Efforts for a sustainable low carbon future led nations to formulate the Paris Agreement of 2015 that brought in voluntary commitments and nationally determined contributions (NDCs), devoid of all the enforcement mechanism and asked of nations to track their progress every five years to limit the global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and cap the same at 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, more and more evidence is mounting that countries aren’t doing enough of what they stated and the worst thing is that still majority of such pledges made by 184 countries of the Agreement are not adequate enough in the first place for the realization of such a massive goal.

It is time the climate change deniers acknowledge its truth by adopting stern measures akin to COVID-19. Declaration of climate change as an “emergency”, as scientists have been warning for a long time, would accelerate the response. Quick response can mitigate the effects of a pandemic. South Korea’s aggressive containment measures were a success causing little damage to the nation’s economy unlike the United States that refused to face facts and is staring at more economic and social harm. The global community is fighting this pandemic with a kind of cooperation never seen before. The effects of climate change can be combated with such levels of coordination. Humanity must learn that global challenges have no national borders. No nation is immune to their catastrophic consequences. While the vulnerable are always the first target in any negative phenomena, the rest of us are not spared either. We are all staring at our extinction by brushing alarming concerns of climate change under the carpet. A Report by a panel of world-class climate scientists, “The Truth Behind the Paris Agreement Climate Pledges,” warns that by 2030, the failure to reduce emissions will cost the world a minimum of $2 billion per day in economic losses from weather events made worse by human-induced climate change. Aggressive measures based on Common-but-differentiated Responsibility are warranted. For this, leadership must come from all quarters- governments should strengthen their pledges, the private sector must engage in sustainable and innovative business and individuals must engage in global climate strikes to fuel the other sectors and switch to a low-carbon lifestyle by altering consumption patterns. However, a rush to resuscitate a bruised global economy might push the agenda of climate change to the back.

Shane Skelton, former energy advisor to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan makes a valid point when she stated that, “confronting a crisis is far more difficult and expensive when it’s already on your doorstep. The gross amount of money spent, and the disruption to the economy, is far less when you invest in prevention than in managed chaos and recovery” and that is a lesson this pandemic has brought in to our doorsteps. We need to imbibe lessons from this unprecedented crisis and tackle climate change with the same ferocity. In fact, in the longer run, discovery of a vaccine might be able to tackle COVID-19, but same might not be the case for the drastic affect of climate change. Hence the right approach is the definite need of the hour.

Back to Home Page

Apr 26, 2020

Bishaldeep kakati

Your Comment if any