The double whammy of Covid-19 and climate change
By Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh
In the last few weeks as the Covid-19 pandemic has been spreading from country to country, the communities with which we have been working have found themselves to be at the forefront of lockdowns being imposed in many countries. Hence, we are immediately moving our work into tackling the Covid-19 while, at the same time, preparing for tackling the climate change impacts that will inevitably affect them.
One way in which we plan to do so is for the researchers from the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Universities Consortium on Climate Change (LUCCC) to talk to the representatives of communities in the most vulnerable cities and towns and then tell their stories through social media—and at the same time, to engage with decision-makers at the city and national levels and even the global level. Our contention is that for a better impact of the policies being implemented to deal with the Covid-19 public health problem as well as the economic fallout of the lockdowns, it is absolutely necessary to involve the communities themselves in implementing the policies. The one-size-fits-all approach behind total lockdowns is almost impossible to bear fruit in the most densely populated slums in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The other dimension that we will be exploring in the near term is to ensure that the different national economic stimulus packages that are being planned and implemented in every country prioritise investments that are both people- and environment-friendly. It is essential to ensure that we do not return to business as usual, which had caused the public health and climate change emergencies in the first place, but rather move towards a "new normal" where the policies are aimed at helping the most vulnerable citizens of every country as well as reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and protecting the natural environment.
Personally, the most important lesson that I can discern from the best practices we are seeing around the world in dealing with Covid-19 is that states like Kerala in India and countries like Vietnam as well as Korea and Germany have relied more on informing their respective populations about what they had to do and why, rather than suddenly announcing decisions and using law enforcement authorities to impose those. Hence, when it comes to the most vulnerable developing countries including Bangladesh, we must rely on informing and educating our populations, particularly the most vulnerable communities, and listen to their concerns when formulating and implementing new policies or regulations. Without an informed and engaged population, we cannot overcome either the Covid-19 pandemic or the climate change emergency.