East Asia Forum

Classes from COVID-19 and the battle in opposition to the local weather disaster


Writer: Nguyen Hoang Anh Thu, VTT

The COVID-19 pandemic has positioned nice difficulties on the battle in opposition to sea-level rise for small island growing states. However policymakers can study classes in disaster administration from the pandemic to develop a plan of motion to fight the local weather disaster.

Tuvalu's foreign minister did his COP26 statement like no other by speaking behind a podium at sea, standing in knee-deep water. Minister of Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs Simon Kofe delivering his remarks to COP26 in seawater by making a pre-recorded statement at sea to address about rising sea levels affecting Pacific nations, such as Tuvalu, Fongafale, Tuvalu, 5 November 2021 (Photo: Tuvalu government/Reuters).

Of all of the challenges dealing with small island growing states, the rise in sea stage is essentially the most pressing menace. Most components of small island states are in low-lying coastal areas. In some states, a big a part of their inhabitants resides inside 5 meters above sea stage. This makes these states extraordinarily susceptible to the results of a better sea stage corresponding to floor flooding, maritime ecosystem degradation and saltwater intrusion into arable land.

The continued COVID-19 pandemic prompted a discount in authorities income obligatory for local weather motion. Tourism has lengthy been the predominant financial sector for a lot of small island growing states, however within the wake of COVID-19 vacationer numbers declined by 70 per cent in 2020. This home income shortfall has pressured small island growing states to chop expenditure on climate-related actions. Developed nations have additionally reduce overseas assist, prioritising spending that tackles the fast penalties of COVID-19 and contributes to restoration plans.

Many deliberate talks, conferences and negotiations on mitigating local weather change and rising seas have been cancelled attributable to COVID-19. For instance, the lately concluded COP26 summit in November 2021 was postponed from 2020.

COVID-19 has additionally negatively impacted media protection of local weather change. The media has shifted to focus extra on the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas media protection on local weather change has decreased significantly.

However the battle in opposition to COVID-19 can go away many priceless classes for policymakers from small island growing states to use to the continuing rising sea stage problem.

Each the COVID-19 pandemic and the ocean stage rise subject might be thought to be crises of humanity. Whereas the pandemic has taken the lives of roughly 5.4 million individuals and dramatically disrupted society, rising seas additionally threaten to submerge many international locations, particularly small island growing states, and trigger mass inhabitants displacement. Each points require fast actions — the longer the inaction continues, the upper the longer term price. These crises danger growing in unprecedented ways in which individuals can’t precisely predict.

A lesson derived from the pandemic is the significance of preparedness. International locations with expertise dealing with epidemics, such because the 2002–2004 SARS outbreak, had strengthened their public well being services and enhanced their residents’ consciousness concerning the danger of infectious illnesses. Thanks to raised preparedness, such international locations tended to carry out extra successfully in containing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Small island growing states ought to put together themselves to mitigate the results of rising sea ranges. Some island states have already taken motion — Tuvalu, Fiji, Kiribati and the Maldives have constructed seawalls and relocated low-lying communities to increased floor. However these insurance policies usually are not sufficient as quite a few seawalls have been poorly made whereas the relocation coverage is controversial owing to the potential loss identification. Small island growing states want to arrange extra adequately to construct their resilience. Actions embrace, however usually are not restricted to, bettering present defence infrastructure like seawalls, mangrove preservation and seashore nourishment, growing flood notification techniques and switching to wash vitality.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need of worldwide emergency declarations. As an illustration, after the World Well being Group (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on 11 March 2020, it prompted a major improve in public consciousness and state actions. The WHO’s declaration additionally facilitated collaboration amongst states and related stakeholders to comprise the virus.

A worldwide state of local weather emergency is but to be declared. A number of international locations haven’t achieved sufficient to fulfil their local weather commitments and emission discount pledges. An emergency declaration gives an incentive for the worldwide group to resolve different disputed points associated to sea-level rise, particularly the popularity of local weather refugees and the potential change in maritime boundaries beneath Articles 3 and 4 of the United Nations Conference on the Regulation of the Sea. As nations on the frontline of the ocean stage rise disaster, small island growing states must voice their issues and demand a world official recognition of local weather emergency.

One other lesson from the battle in opposition to COVID-19 is transnational cooperation. Had states, health-related worldwide organisations and non-government organisations not cooperated, COVID-19 would have continued to unfold quickly. During the last two years, actors from totally different ranges have shared knowledge, established a typical framework for associated laws and supplied susceptible states with medical tools and vaccines.

Concerted worldwide actions are key to overcoming the issue of rising sea ranges. Small island growing states alone can’t sort out such a fancy drawback. They need to speed up cooperation with different states and related organisations to decelerate sea-level rise. Areas the place wealthier states can contribute are analysis, expertise switch, funding for international locations in danger and greenhouse gasoline emissions discount.

The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected insurance policies to sort out sea-level rise. Regardless of this, the pandemic generally is a boon if policymakers contemplate the teachings discovered from combating COVID-19.

Nguyen Hoang Anh Thu is a senior analysis fellow on the Vanguard Suppose Tank for Trans-Pacific Relations.



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