By Jane Wilkinson
As the world comes to grips with COVID19, industrialised countries have borne the early brunt of health and economic shocks. Border closures, draconian social-distancing laws and total lockdowns have plunged the global economy into a deep freeze. Hundreds of billions have been pledged to boost public health services, keep businesses afloat and preserve jobs for whatever ‘new normal’ awaits. To date the jaw-dropping largesse is mostly self-directed and with few exceptions, the situation facing developing countries has been largely ignored. The world needs a global response to avoid an unmitigated catastrophe with lasting impacts.
Among those bracing for the pandemic’s arrival are the world’s ‘bottom billion’ in the most vulnerable and poor countries. The European Union’s Global Climate Change Alliance Plus (GCCA+) has been working with Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) since 2008, providing more than €700 million to around 90 programs focused on building climate resilience to improve livelihoods and alleviate poverty.
LDCs’ high vulnerability to climate change impacts is compounded by their low capacity to adapt and recover. Their vulnerability to COVID19, should it take hold, has a similar character. The massive overburdening of flimsy public health systems and the spill-over effects of a global economic meltdown would be disastrous.
Many LDCs have begun to enact strong measures. Among the GCCA+ partners, Nepal has closed schools, cancelled events, shut down Mount Everest and largely closed the border. Uganda has banned weddings and large religious gatherings. Kenya and Nigeria have shut down schools. Rwanda has closed borders. But few LDCs can enforce nationwide or citywide lockdowns when the very ability of people to feed themselves daily depends upon transactions in the informal economy. In overcrowded peri-urban settlements and slums measures like social distancing and ‘proper’ hand washing may be impossible.
The one thing we know for certain is that the post-corona world will still be climate-challenged. Given the scale of the crisis and associated cash injections, is worth reflecting on a past crisis that offers some lessons. Back in 2009 under the Copenhagen Accord, rich countries pledged a USD 30 billion fast-start finance bridging package and a USD 100 billion climate finance goal. The timing coincided with the 2009 Global Financial Crisis and China, the US and G20 governments were half-way through delivering stimulus packages worth USD 3 trillion. More than half a trillion dollars was dedicated to climate aligned action and proved crucial in driving technology price falls that have helped solar and solar energy to achieve price parity with coal in most countries today.
Strained public finances and fiscal austerity are sure to follow this current splurge. But right now there is a rich opportunity to align fiscal stimulus and aid packages with a climate transition that is fair, inclusive, and delivers lasting resilience. Governments should explain how they intend to green coronavirus stimulus packages, and how they will act to protect the most vulnerable of the world’s people. Achieving the SDGs including SDG 13 on climate action and SDG 1 on poverty eradication, could depend upon it.
Jane Wilkinson is the GCCA+ Support Facility Strategic Mitigation Adviser
The content does not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Commission