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Earth Day 2020: We must overcome two crises

Date: 21 April 2020

By Sonam P. Wangdi

Earth Day 2020 and we are living amidst two global crises. We face a pandemic and a changing climate, both with devastating and far reaching impacts. Both disproportionately impacting the poor and vulnerable, and magnifying existing challenges.

The theme for Earth Day is climate action, recognizing that climate change presents a grave challenge on this 50th anniversary of the day dedicated to the environment.

Climate change has seen decades of international effort. Despite this, greenhouse gas emissions have risen at alarming rates, as have the disproportionate impacts on the lives of poor and vulnerable peoples, countries and communities. Amongst them are the more than one billion people living in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), who face these risks compounded by the lack of capacity to deal with climate impacts. Over the past 50 years, 2 of every 3 people who have died worldwide from climate-related disasters are from LDCs. Avoiding even more severe impacts is still feasible, but requires cutting global CO2 emissions by about half by 2030, to reach net-zero by mid-century. However, today global emissions continue to show no sign of peaking.

This year, so far, has been very difficult for all of us.

The outbreak of COVID-19 continues to inflict a heavy cost to human lives and economies. Governments around the world are rightly focusing on protecting the health and safety of their people – taking unprecedented measures to minimise the extent and severity of the pandemic’s impacts. These measures have resulted in a noticeable reduction in emissions and cleaner air around the globe. However, this has come at great cost both in terms of health and livelihoods. There has to be a better way of achieving environmental gains. The recovery process from the current COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity to transition to just and climate-resilient green economies. To achieve this, governments must embed environmental considerations and robust public health systems into recovery measures, transforming economies through low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development pathways that prioritize the health and livelihoods of their citizens.

The Paris Agreement sets 2020 as a milestone for commitments from countries to address this crisis. This is not the time to stall climate action, and we are proud to support the Belize Placencia Ambition Forum convened virtually by the Alliance of Small Island States. The Least Developed Countries will also make every effort to meet virtually throughout the year, moving forward even with unprecedented changes in how climate diplomacy is done.

On this Earth Day, those most vulnerable to the climate crisis demand climate action. We call for:

  • Communication of new climate pledges: 2020 marks the deadline for countries to submit new pledges to kickstart the first implementation cycle of the Paris Agreement. The Nationally Determined Contributions submitted so far will not limit global warming to 1.5°C. Even fully implemented, they are predicted to lead to a 2.8°C warmer world – a catastrophe, particularly for the most vulnerable. This year, high emitting countries must submit new or updated pledges that are as ambitious as possible and represent their fair share, as required by the Paris Agreement.
  • Delivery of US$100 billion per year, which developed countries committed to mobilise by 2020 to support developing countries in addressing climate change. Climate finance currently falls well short of this commitment and of the needs of developing countries to adapt to climate impacts, address the loss and damage it causes, and to ensure development pathways transition to be low-carbon and sustainable.
  • Setting long-term decarbonisation goals: Countries should also communicate mid-century, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies this year. So far only 17 countries have submitted Long Term Strategies that demonstrate how they are planning to achieve the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement. The LDC Group has already set a 2050 Vision to be on climate-resilient development pathways by 2030 and deliver net-zero emissions by 2050 to ensure our societies and ecosystems thrive.

This Earth Day is the moment to internalize the relationship between human and natural systems, and the need for science and international solidarity to address our most pressing challenges. Tackling climate change requires the same resolve as our response to the pandemic. For the most vulnerable, the climate crisis is a real and present threat to lives and livelihoods and must be treated with the same urgency.

Sonam P. Wangdi is the chair of the Least Developed Countries Group of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Secretary of the National Environment Commission, Kingdom of Bhutan

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