The recent global lockdowns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw air travel grind to almost a standstill, and resulted in decreased greenhouse gas emissions, have done little to slow down the rate of climate change, which has been repeatedly identified as the single greatest threat to the security and livelihoods of Pacific island peoples.
This was revealed during the third webinar in the “Transitioning to a Post-Pandemic Pacific” series hosted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), which took place this afternoon.
The webinar, titled “Double Jeopardy: COVID-19 brings heat to climate change urgency”, was hosted by the Climate Change Resilience (CCR) programme of the Secretariat. It consisted of a panel made up of representatives from SPREP and Climate Analytics, as well as a representative from Samoa, and a youth climate advocate from Fiji.
The esteemed panel came together to carry out a discussion on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Pacific’s response to climate change.
Deputy Director General of SPREP, Mr Stuart Chape, said “Today’s webinar calls for the Pacific and its partners to maintain momentum and elevate climate change action despite COVID-19 slowing down our economies. One of the great thinkers from the small islands said during a recent webinar – you can quarantine COVID-19 but you cannot quarantine climate change.”
Ms Anne Rasmussen, Assistant Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) of the Government of Samoa, and Samoa’s lead climate change negotiator, said that the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how a global phenomenon can alter our way of life and social structures, and impact the economy.
“We do not have the luxury of operation on a “business-as-usual” basis because, supported by the latest science and facts, the world can expect an even more severe global catastrophe with the projected impacts of climate change on the environment, ecosystems, livelihoods, public infrastructure, human life, and the main drivers of the world’s economy.”
Ms Rasmussen stated that while the silver lining from COVID-19 has been the temporary slowing down of emissions of greenhouse gases and improvement in local air quality, the planet is still breaking climate change records. This was further supported by SPREP’s Climate Change Adviser, Mr Espen Ronneberg.
“Even though the most conservative estimates anticipate historic declines in carbon emissions this year because of the pandemic, the atmosphere continues to be loading up on too much carbon,” Mr Ronneberg said.
“The skies may be temporarily less polluted because so many of us are staying home and are not flying, the carbon lingers and can sit in the atmosphere for hundreds and thousands of years. So one year of relatively declining carbon outputs is going to do little to address climate change without fundamental long-term transformation.”
“These declines we have seen this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic are unheard of, but the impacts are likely to be short-lived. So it’s clear that there is much uncertainty, but the focus should be on keeping up this momentum of climate change programmes,” he added.
“As a teen climate activist, I see potential solutions that lack political will. The speed of border restrictions and lockdowns at the height of COVID-19 shows that governments can act if they want to – with a political will and public buy-in,” she said.
“It is my prayer that our climate advocacy will not be watered down then lockdowns are lifted. We are stronger together!” she concluded by saying.
This webinar is available on YouTube at this link.