Opinion Editorial by EU Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives Denis Chaibi concerning the importance of addressing the threat of climate change in recovery efforts
As the world grapples with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, and starts to gradually prepare for dealing with its longer-term impacts, the very real threat of climate change, - possibly the greatest threat that mankind faces - did not disappear. Governments and societies should take a moment to reflect on what we can learn from this crisis, draw parallels with the overhanging threat of climate change, and use these lessons to build a better future.
With more than half of the global population locked-down, the first lesson learned is the deep interdependency between our countries and regions and the high exposure that we all have to unanticipated external shocks. With the virus spreading uncontrollably from continent to continent, it has been those governments that have accepted responsibility for the well-being of their citizens and come out with a clear plan that have weathered the test. The Maldives can be proud to fall into that category.
The second lesson is that multilateralism and global solidarity work. Many governments have joined forces to set up coordination and information sharing mechanisms and mobilised assistance to the most affected and the particularly vulnerable, effectively saving lives and livelihoods all around the world. The third lesson has been the necessity to accept science and respond to it. Lastly, while the poorest are the most vulnerable to the long lasting impacts, the crisis spares none.
And this is where we come to climate change and environmental degradation. Covid-19 in 2020 is an exceptionally large- scale human tragedy, and similar outbreaks can be expected in the future, but science tells us that this is just a warning compared to the existential risks for our civilization associated with global warming and other planetary challenges in the years to come. Climate change is an existential threat to the Maldives with its low-lying islands, which may be at risk of submersion due to sea level swift rise. Equally at risk is the Maldivian economy, tourism and fisheries, as they depend on the country’s natural resources. With rising sea temperatures Maldives’ coral reefs increasingly show signs of bleaching resulting in the reduction of fish stocks. In addition are the impacts of adverse weather conditions such as heavy rainfall and resultant flooding, storm surges and cyclonic winds, longer dry spells and depleting groundwater reserves. Yet the Maldives have led by example having headed the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) for several years. The EU counts on the Maldives as a like-minded partner in the fight against climate change.
There is also evidence that many new infectious disease outbreaks are increasingly triggered or accentuated by the impacts of global warming or by ecosystem degradation. Healthy natural ecosystems are a prerequisite for continued prosperity and the Maldives are fortunate to still have quite a few of these. Unaddressed climate change – if the international community fails to bring the increasing greenhouse gas emissions down – and environmental degradation will lead to catastrophic consequences, including making large parts of our planet uninhabitable already in the coming decades. Similarly, the growing number of violent weather phenomena will continue to destroy crops, homes and infrastructures, trigger massive wildfires and induce mass migration. These are ingredients for a very unsettled world.
Global warming is harder to tackle than the Covid-19 pandemic. There will be no vaccine against climate change and its devastating impacts. Flattening the emissions curve will only be possible if we take bold and courageous climate action, together. The good news is, we can do it and we can – in fact, must– use the economic rebound from Covid-19, to accelerate the transition to a safer, more resilient future.
The choices we make today will define tomorrow’s future. Over the next two years, governments around the world will seek to spend around EUR 10 trillion borrowed from future generations. The massive investment needed to kick-start our economies must relieve the burden on their shoulders, not make it heavier. We need to get it right from the get-go. This is why the recovery plans should be designed as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ‘build back better’ and invest in an economy of the 21st century, and not in the obsolete carbon economy of the past century.
The EU has reconfirmed its commitment to a green, digital and resilient recovery and embedded it in its proposal for the EU’s recovery plan released at the end of May. Through our recovery plan called Next Generation EU and a revamped EU budget, every euro of investment will be made available to get Europe back on its feet, while accelerating the twin green and digital transitions and building a fairer and more resilient society. Moreover, the Commission has proposed for 25% of the EU budget for the next seven years to be spent on climate investments. Some areas where strong action can lead to big impacts are, for instance, the circular economy, ecosystem restoration, the built environment (renovation), mobility (electrification), and energy (renewables and clean hydrogen).
The EU will stick to its goal to be climate neutral by 2050 – and we challenge anyone to beat us to it so the whole of humanity wins.
In its Biodiversity Strategy to 2030, the EU has also made major commitments on protecting and restoring EU’s ecosystems and is ready to lead efforts to agree an ambitious new global biodiversity framework for post-2020 at the upcoming COP15 on Biological Diversity. The Maldives have one of the richest marine diversities in the world.
Global solidarity, open and fair trade, rules-based order, and multilateralism are crucial to avoid lapsing into a fossil fuel and resource intensive recovery, which would put people and the planet irreversibly in peril. We urge all international partners, and in particular the Maldives and their citizens to also put in place clear and robust low carbon policies and green recovery strategies. The Maldives are doing a lot already but more is necessary. This will give our societies a sense of direction and purpose, and guide investors, businesses, workers and consumers towards sustainability.
The EU stands ready to engage with partners around the world on ways to direct investment to environmentally sustainable economic activities. We have a number of projects in the pipeline. For instance, a programme to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by moving away from diesel powered electricity generation to renewable energy resources in outer islands will not only enable the Government to achieve its international pledges towards carbon neutrality, but will enhance energy security while reducing the cost of energy, freeing up funds for other development needs of the island nation. The EU has also recently signed a contract with the Maldives National University aimed at decreasing marine litter and protecting the ocean and its life forms. We are available to share expertise, finance projects, explain our regulations and share our principles for sustainable finance. We are working hard to find new ways to win this collective challenge and allow our children to enjoy a decent human life on a peaceful planet is not an idealistic or a naïve pursuit. It is about staying true to our values, listening to science, strengthening our economies, and building a better future. There simply is no realistic alternative to green recovery and we must share responsibility if our children are to survive the biggest threat to their future.