Covid-19 no excuse to delay action on climate change: UNESCAP honcho

Vinson Kurian Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on August 06, 2020 Published on August 06, 2020

Long-term benefits should never be sacrificed for short-term gains, says Sanjay Srivastava

Even as we fight the Covid-19 pandemic, dealing with climate change seems like a luxury to only afford in future. However, time, tide, and climate change wait for no man. A sombre lesson from the pandemic is that long-term benefits should never be sacrificed for short-term gains and that it is almost impossible to isolate oneself from a global shock, says Sanjay Srivastava, Chief of Disaster Reduction at the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific (UNESCAP), Bangkok.

Hence, it is time to move towards the development approach that prioritises people and the planet, he wrote in an e-mail to BusinessLine. Cross-border cooperation is crucial to prevent inaction and raise our ambitions on climate-related goals. For instance, in terms of mitigation, countries can accelerate the pace towards decarbonisation by developing regional carbon markets.

Additionally, countries should cooperate to increase resilience through adaptation. In this respect, Japan has led the Group of 20 Action Agenda on Adaptation and Resilient Infrastructure, while the Government of India has led the launch of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, Srivastava observed.

Higher frequency, intensity

Natural disasters are occurring with a higher frequency and intensity, he said, citing the instance of super cyclone Amphan that slammed into India’s East Coast and adjoining Bangladesh during the Covid-19 pandemic. The loss of casualties was limited, thanks to the multi-hazard early warning systems, which accurately forecast the cyclone and helped in the evacuation of more than three million people.

However, rapidly intensifying storms are becoming a new normal. They are, as scientists suggest, linked to climate change, with studies pointing increasingly to the dangers posed by storms that make a sudden leap in intensity categories. While early warning systems have been helpful in saving lives through timely evacuation of at-risk communities before cyclones strike, the increasing economic impact of such events is a cause of grave concern, noted Srivastava.

For instance, the economic impact of Amphan is estimated at $13 billion and $135 million in India and Bangladesh, respectively. The damages mostly relate to social infrastructure (housing, schools, and hospitals), physical infrastructure (energy, transport, water/sanitation, ICT) and agriculture (crops, livestock).

Location of critical infrastructure

The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2019 has highlighted that high proportions of the existing critical infrastructures are located in multi-hazard risk hotspots, which when the natural disasters occur, lead to a significant disruption in economic activity. For instance, a third of energy power plants, ICT fibre-optic cables, and airports and over 42 per cent of road infrastructure are located in multi-hazard risk hotspots, Srivastava explained.

How can resilience be built in defending against climate change? This requires both monetary investments and policy actions, he said. Building infrastructure that is climate-resilient (adaptation) and reducing the release of GHG emissions (mitigation) are two keys aspects, which can be strengthened through a coalition of stakeholders to move towards a low-carbon world.

We should reduce our vulnerability to climate change, especially in risk hotspots, by building infrastructure that is resilient to climate change. ESCAP estimates suggest that an additional investment of $182 billion per year is needed to include resilience against increasing forces of nature into the design and construction of transport, ICT and water and sanitation infrastructures.

Improving energy efficiency

Reducing the release of GHG emissions that are warming our planet requires a reduction in the reliance on fossil fuels and largely improving energy efficiency, observed Srivastava. This would require an annual additional investment of $191 billion. To move towards a low-carbon world, the Decade of Action calls for action at local, people, and global level.

In this vein, the ESCAP 2020 Survey highlighted the following actions: Local governments should lead the transition out of fossil fuel by removing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing carbon pricing through emissions trading schemes or a carbon tax, and greening the financial systems by providing financial and regulatory incentives to encourage transparency in emissions and green investments, he noted.

People and businesses should internalise negative social and environmental externalities caused by their operations by incorporating environmental, social and governance factors into their business decisions; consumers on their own should choose sustainable lifestyles. For instance, they can choose public transport or opt for energy-efficient home appliances to reduce their own carbon footprints, said Srivastava.

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Published on August 06, 2020
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