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Saturday, June 3, 2023

Coronavirus and implications for climate change

By Professor Nasiru M. Idris
Professor Nasiru M. Idris

The COVID-19 has shifted the attention of the world from climate change issues to coronavirus pandemic because it has shut down the social and economic activities across the globe. This is looks like what the Spanish flu did between 1918 to 1920 which infected over 500 million people and killed between 17 million to 50 million people as reported by media then and thus making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.

From the look of things, at the end of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the world will likely pay more attention to the fight against climate change issues as lesson learned from the pandemic that almost brought the entire globe to a halt will be an eye opener to the world.

The science community has a big task ahead after learning from this pandemic especially in the area of data sharing and collaboration in order to encourage monitoring and evaluation as injury to one is injury to all.

One thing that the world is currently learning from this pandemic is the curbing of energy use as we have seen a drastic reduction in the use of fossil fuels and people are getting used to telecommunicating, meaning more awareness on data technology and probably, less carbon emission in the future.

The message COVID-19 is sending to the world today is that collective decision is required to tackle all global issues including climate change in order to support economic growth and energy use around the world. As we are seeing now, things have gone and still going out of control in most countries including the developed world.

Social and economic activities are closing while large numbers of deaths are being recorded daily. This is strange, at today’s standards. Health facilities are overstretched while positive results from the tests centres are increasing and isolation centres in some countries are also not adequate, leading to people sleeping in parking lots.

People should also note that threat from coronavirus is temporary while climate related events are real and they would continue in the loss of life and properties as long as global climate change issues is not given paid attention. If the world had been given more attention to climate change issues like what we are seeing today in terms of pledges and support, by now, the target for the reduction in greenhouse gases and keeping global average temperature at certain threshold, climate change issues could have been minimised.

Therefore, our collective effort to green economy and sustainable development is very important towards our lives for the foreseeable future. The practice of social distancing and locking down of towns and cities around the world are measures towards stopping the escalation of coronavirus and if such practice was given to climate change issues by the initial major emitters, by now, the world wouldn’t have been caught by the devil of the deep blue sea as global emissions would have, by now, dropped to the barest  minimum.

From my perspective, coronavirus might likely be bad for climate change on a small scale as lockdowns and social distancing might hinder climate change activities around the world where important decisions are made from the world leaders, such as the postponement of COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, United Kingdom which was supposed to be held in November 2020. Thus, climate change research has also been grounded temporarily but it is for good.

Back home in Nigeria, coronavirus pandemic will be felt hardest by our most vulnerable population especially the rural people, elderly and, most of all, the poor Nigerians that can hardly get a good meal in a day.

Since the outbreak of the virus, Nigerian government and other state governments have been receiving pledges in cash and equipments including hotels, private properties as isolation centres. My advice to them is that those resources should be put to good use and they should also put it at the back of their minds that climate change is real and there’s no other time than now for them to support the government in the areas of adaptation and mitigation.

Flooding, desertification, drought and erosion, among others, are just a few out of many that they can play their role in minimising the effect. They should also note that, you can’t stop some disasters from occurring, but you can minimise the effect in the provision of essential services.

Well, do you know that we can create a functioning economy that supports people without threatening the Earth in so many ways? Do you also know that diseases and climate are interlinked? For example, malaria, dengue, yellow fever, airborne diseases etc. Therefore, COVID-19 pandemic is a wakeup call for global climate change in our society today.

The more we pay more attention to climate change, the better for us and future generations because coronavirus and climate change are partly a problem of economic structure, but they are driven by natural and environmental issues. Tackling climate change and COVID-19 is simple if we reduce our economic activities that are non-essential and if we use less energy and emit less gases.

However, the government at all levels should also note that complete lockdown is putting pressure on the global economy and further chances of going into recession. So, experts in the field should start preparing their scripts to government on the possible alternative of COVID-19 aftermath as the world will never be the same again in terms of international travels, tourism, collaborations, networking and what have you. Each country will look inwards on how to revive its economy as no one will be of help at the initial stage of the aftermath.

To this end, there’s one lesson that the coronavirus pandemic has taught us: “hygiene”, which is basic as part of life but not really in our country. Therefore, we should continue to practice handwashing with soap which is a major defense against COVID-19. Use of hand sanitisers should continue in our places of work and other public places also.

Governments at all levels and politicians should give priority to construction and equipping of hospitals in our next budget as well as constituency projects should light their torch also in that direction. Who knows, one day, you might be a customer in your constituency project.

Finally, the world has come to a standstill because of this pandemic and no one knows for how long this will last as free movement of people is restricted and supply chains have been disrupted, dealing a blow on the global economy.

But, on our part as environmentalists, the world is enjoying clean/fresh air, reduction in pollution from nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide because majority of cars, airplanes and factories are off their activities.

By Professor Nasiru Medugu Idris (Dean, Faculty of Environmental Science, Nasarawa State University Keffi, nasiru@nsuk.edu.ng)

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