Coronavirus – Africa: Treat climate crisis with same urgency as COVID-19 pandemic; new Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) paper

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A post coronavirus recovery in Africa should address the fundamental causes of vulnerabilities and go beyond fiscal and monetary adjustments whose sole aim is to ensure the survival and perpetuation of the current system of production, consumption and distribution which is responsible for the climate crisis, according to a new discussion paper published by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

In the discussion paper produced against the backdrop of the unprecedented global health crisis, titled; Climate Change and Development in Africa Post COVID-19: Some Critical Reflections, the ECA’s African Climate Policy Centre’s (ACPC) argues that a new political economy based on cohesion, equality and environmental sustainability is required to enable drastic climate actions.

The paper addresses the climate emergency and lessons from COVID-19, global warming, financing the twin crises, the required energy transition, climate change perceptions and whether COVID-19 lessons can benefit climate action.

“Sustainability in a post COVID-19 world should be based on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the environment,” reads the paper, adding recovery plans must not reinvest in dirty, polluting industries but promote meaningful employment, ensure just transitions, and be based on available science.

“Funds required to underwrite climate actions actually exist, and the same approach used to mobilize COVID-19 funds should secure even greater investment in a carbon-neutral economy.”

The paper highlights that the fundamental reason for the recognition of COVID-19 threats and the limited recognition of climate change threats is that COVID-19 has been clearly understood, beyond the health impacts as an immediate and present threat to global development, while climate change continues to be viewed as a long term and uncertain threat to some remote communities of the world.

“What is required, and urgently, is a fundamental shift in perceptions and attitudes in order to engender a development centric understanding of climate change,” the ACPC experts say, adding; “Suggestions that we cannot afford to address climate change, biodiversity loss and economic crises at the same time represents a false choice, both crises must be addressed at the same time.”

“We should not seek to simply restore the pre-pandemic status quo. What is required is a paradigm shift. Green transitions are not only about energy transitions, they are about transforming everything from food systems to consumption and waste management,” ACPC experts proffer in the paper.

They advocate a massive injection of resources into national meteorological and hydrological services across Africa in line with the scale of the climate threat to all sectors of the continent’s economies.

“We have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic that timely response is of the essence. It marks the difference between containing a crisis and allowing it to spill over and completely overwhelm public organizations’ ability to function effectively,” the experts say.

Climate change exacerbates existing vulnerabilities and inequalities, and that historical, political and economic factors determine societal vulnerability to climate change hazards and risks, the experts said.

They note that the Paris Agreement, is pivoted on the principle of ‘enlightened self-interest’ and that every nation will act in its enlightened self-interest to mitigate its own emissions, and will increase its mitigation actions as other nations also mitigate theirs.

“The inadequacy of this principle is glaring,” the ACPC experts say in the paper, adding the global response to COVID-19 had demonstrated the utility of multilateralism and the common interest of humanity.

“The lesson of COVID-19, therefore is that science can in fact be translated into urgent policy decisions if there is sufficient political will. The response to COVID-19 has been based on unprecedented government intervention, and almost universal social acceptance of the radical measures adopted by all but a few governments. Countries quick to respond have handled the virus more effectively.”

The same approach is needed for climate policies, the paper opines.

“COVID-19 has given rise to an uncontested recognition of the centrality of the state in managing the crisis. It has demonstrated the urgent need to build state capacities,” reads the paper.

The paper also touches on the revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and the need for an immediate review if they do not put the world on course for limiting global warming to less than two degrees Celsius.

It urges the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties to move from perpetual negotiation to a deliberative and democratic process where representatives of all stakeholders in society agree on the best ways to transition to a sustainable future, including imposing restrictions on detrimental activities and determining the allocation of responsibilities, costs and reparations.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

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