VACCINES for Covid-19 are now available. Many see in them hope to end this pandemic and return the world’s economy to normal. However, scientists warn that we may have to live longer if not permanently with the new normal: Already new and more infectious variants of the virus have appeared in Britain, creating uncertainty.
Still, with vaccines on hand, the urgency has died down a little. But there’s another global threat that remains urgent and for which there is no vaccine: Climate change. Like the virus, the greenhouse gases that are catastrophically warming the planet are invisible yet ever present. But while countries stepped up and people made sacrifices to combat Covid-19, that same political and social will is missing in the fight against climate change.
Experts attribute the lack of progress to a lost sense of urgency and decades of talk with little to show for it. The Paris Agreement was supposed to pave the way for a carbon neutral world but remains in stalemate. While the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that humanity has the capacity to respond to a global crisis, many may not appreciate that climate change is an even more significant challenge to humanity, one that threatens our long-term survival as a species.
Indeed, the impacts of global warming are already killing people and devastating livelihoods. One report notes that more than 100 climate change-related disasters occurred in just the first six months of the pandemic, affecting over 50 million people. And the world’s poorest and most at-risk people are being hit the hardest. What’s more, climate experts stress that climate-driven disasters will only get worse.
The figures reported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in its 2020 World Disasters Report published last month are grim. In the past 10 years, 83% of all disasters triggered by natural hazards were caused by extreme weather- and climate-related events, such as floods, storms and heatwaves. The proportion of all disasters attributable to climate and extreme weather events has also increased significantly during this time. These extreme weather- and climate-related disasters have killed more than 410,000 people in the past 10 years, the vast majority in low and lower middle-income countries. Heatwaves, then storms, have been the biggest killers. A further 1.7 billion people around the world have been affected by climate- and weather-related disasters during the past decade.
The good news is that even though the climate crisis is much more dangerous to human life on Earth than the pandemic, the US$10 trillion (RM40.6 trillion) spent (so far) on the global response to the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis is far more than the amount of money the IFRC says is necessary to adapt to current and imminent climate-driven disasters. According to the report, “it would take an estimated US$50bil (RM203bil) annually to meet the adaptation requirements set out by 50 developing countries for the coming decade”.
The organisation pointed out that “funding for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction does not seem to consistently prioritise the countries at highest risk and with the lowest ability to adapt and cope with these risks”. None of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change and to climate- and weather-related disasters were among the 20 highest per person recipients of climate change adaptation funding.
Though not as bad off as some countries, we in Malaysia also have our fair share of climate-related disasters. The most frequent ones relate to floods, and consequent landslides, which occur during the monsoon months. It is therefore equally incumbent upon us to do our bit to support the global push for carbon neutrality. It is good that under the Smart City Framework, many of the nation’s urban centres are embarking on initiatives to reduce their carbon footprints and become carbon neutral. But more needs to be done, and now.
PROF DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM
Fellow, Academy of Sciences Malaysia
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