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Earth Today | UN chief calls attention to climate change amid virus fight

Published:Thursday | April 23, 2020 | 12:13 AM

UNITED NATIONS Secretary General António Guterres has called the world’s attention back to climate change, even as countries work feverishly to save lives in the face of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Worldwide, COVID-19 has infected more than two million people and killed in excess of 162,000, while throwing the global economy into a tailspin. Climate-change impacts include global warming, sea-level rise and extreme hurricanes and droughts, together with threats to food and freshwater security, as well as compromised public health and economies, and associated loss of lives and livelihoods.

“The social and economic devastation caused by climate disruption will be many times greater than the current pandemic,” predicted Guterres in a video message to the Alliance of Small Island States Ambition Forum in Placencia, Belize, earlier this week.

“Now is not the time for retreat,” he added.

In this way, Guterres echoed the sentiments of local stakeholders, who only last week cautioned Caribbean islands who are among those most vulnerable to climate impacts, to keep climate change front of mind, even as they battle COVID-19.

“We have to take charge of our own vulnerability. We know we are vulnerable and need to ensure that our own path takes that into account. Nobody is going to come in and do it for you,” cautioned Eleanor Jones, head of Environmental Solutions Limited (ESL) and a member of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica.

She was speaking to The Gleaner last week.

“I think the really concerning thing right now, and it is a lot for us to process in these times, but we are seeing the escalation in heat and so the climate impacts, they are not staying and waiting for us to recover from COVID,” noted Indi Mclymont Lafayette of Change Communications.

“I think we will have to seriously look at how prepared we are for an above-average hurricane season, since that is what is being predicted now,” added the Change boss, who worked for many years in climate justice and environmental advocacy at the regional and international levels.

According to Guterres, it is now more important than ever to focus attention on climate change which promises to be ‘slower’ and ‘deadlier’ than COVID-19. He, like Jones and Lafayette, encouraged small islands, such as those of the Caribbean, to pursue efforts towards enhanced resilience.


“Small island states have traditionally been in the forefront of climate advocacy and action. We need your voices now more than ever to ensure we keep the promise of the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees,” he said.

“By coming forward this year with enhanced, nationally determined contributions and strategies to reach net zero emissions, you will once again lead the way for others to follow on ambitious climate action,” Guterres added.

At the same time, he said that the pandemic was an opportunity to “build back better”, as the global community is provided with a unique window to create a more resilient future through “ambitious climate action on mitigation, adaptation and finance”.

Jones agreed, but only, she said, if countries take the chance.

“People collaborate when they consider it in their interest. I don’t know that we have reached the stage where people really believe that climate change is now and that it goes beyond borders. With this disease (COVID-19) going all over the world, you see the impact of it. We are not absorbing that with global warming and climate change,” she said.

Still, the ESL boss said there is something to be said about young people and how they have stepped up to collaborate on climate change.

“If we could have collaboration, and that is where the young people come in, if we can get the youth really working and thinking through this thing, then there is hope. They understand and support a healthy planet,” Jones said.