Tackling three global emergencies at once

Photo: Collected

The world is having to tackle three major emergencies at the same time. The first is obviously the Covid-19 pandemic that is still raging around the world, the second is climate change, which is also getting much worse every year, and finally, there is biodiversity loss, which will mean the loss of up to a million species if we cannot stem the tide.

What is being done and what more needs to be done, at both the global as well as national levels?

At the global level, for climate change, we have the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. For biodiversity, we have the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), and for Covid-19, we have the World Health Organization (WHO) and its COVAX vaccine initiative. Both the CBD and UNFCCC will be holding their respective annual Conference of Parties (COP) in the next few months.

However, one of the aspects of recognising these three issues as global emergencies is that waiting for a meeting once a year is simply not fit for purpose any more. As climate activist Greta Thunberg keeps reminding world leaders, an emergency requires that we drop everything and deal with the emergency. These issues need to be addressed, at both national and global levels, every single day of the year.

Unfortunately, the world is not geared towards working on global issues collectively, as the vaccination initiative for the pandemic has starkly illustrated. Every country is trying to tackle the coronavirus within its own borders, with the rich countries vaccinating their entire population first and not providing vaccines to poorer countries. This is based on the totally false assumption that they can stem the tide of infections from crossing international borders. In fact, the selfishness of the rich countries doesn’t stop at monopolising vaccines; they even prevented developing countries like India from manufacturing vaccines by blocking manufacturing licenses being given for free in order to protect the super profits generated by their big pharmaceutical companies.

This same level of global disarray is also evident when dealing with biodiversity loss as well as climate change. The Paris Agreement had already put in place what needed to be done, and all countries agreed to take actions, but they didn’t do what they promised to do. Therefore, it is no longer worth it to simply hold annual COPs for both biodiversity and climate change. Rather, we need to put in place a strong global monitoring system to see who is complying and who is not. This should also be associated with imposing sanctions on countries that fail to comply with global agreements.

For example, Australia, which has the highest per capita emissions of greenhouse gases, has consistently reneged on its commitments to take action to tackle climate change as its politicians are completely beholden to the coal lobby in their country. This is particularly galling for many Australians, as their country is one of the most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, as well as being the most well-endowed with sunlight and wind to promote renewable energy in the place of coal.

Hence, the time has come to name and shame countries and if necessary, impose sanctions on them for non-compliance with global agreements.

Finally, it is important to note that the solutions for tackling all three of the global emergencies is no longer three separate sets of activities taking place in separate domains and silos, but rather a joint approach at the highest levels of national and global leadership. The three global emergencies must be the biggest issue at the upcoming G7 Leaders’ Summit in the UK, as well as the G20 Summit that will follow later.

Another important global meeting will be the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), where I have the privilege of chairing Action Track 5 on Resilience. This is being run as an innovative “People’s Summit” where we are taking ideas from all sectors of society, and all countries, to come up with a set of solutions to be implemented over the coming decade in order to make our national and global food systems more resilient than they are at present. The UNFSS will not be just another agreement that countries sign on paper, but rather actions that coalitions of actors will take forward in new and innovative ways.

It is clear that we need to find better ways to engage with different sectors of society across the globe to tackle the three emergencies effectively.

In Bangladesh, we do have some positive recognition of the three emergencies, as our parliament was the first to declare a Planetary Emergency. However, we now need to put that into practice and implement it, which is not happening fast enough.

A significant opportunity to fast track the implementation of ways to tackle all three of the global emergencies that are also affecting Bangladesh is the recently drafted Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan, which is being released as a draft for public consultation. This is the opportunity for all sectors of society in the country to engage in not just giving inputs to the plan, but in being engaged in its implementation.

The essence of an emergency is that it needs all hands on deck to deal with it. This is equally true at national as well as global levels.

Originally this article was published on May 26, 2021 at Daily Star. The author Prof. Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).
Email: saleemul.huq@icccad.org