Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Insights into Editorial: Lessons from a pandemic: Urgency for climate action




Climate change is a slow pandemic itself that in years to come will cost human lives so we can learn a lesson from this particular pandemic and devise a future which is sustainable in equal parts for humans and environment and wildlife.

The repeated outbreak of pandemics like SARS, MERS, Ebola is a result of climate change, desertification, loss of biodiversity, and illegal trading of wildlife.

In order to successfully avert such a crisis in the future, we have to respect nature and biodiversity.

Scholarly work and viral videos of prophetic philanthropists have warned us of the next pandemic after the Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002. The spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) across the world has demonstrated the foresight of experts.

Much like the claimed behaviour of an ostrich burying its head underground in the face of risk, we have demonstrated our capacity as a society to ignore major risks and their hefty price tags to focus on short-term economic security.

Climate Change and Pandemic:

Even with differences such as timescale of impact, we need to understand how broader similarities between the pandemic and climate change offer a glimpse of a future risked by climate change.

We focus on the pandemic and climate change even though the crises that really resonate with us are global supply chains disruptions and shocks to demand which in turn have their own knock-on effects such as on food security.

An erratic shift of warming temperature in Indian Ocean over the last few years led to unusual amounts of rainfall in west Asia.

This created favourable conditions for an explosion in the population of locusts, which in turn affected agricultural output in East Africa, Pakistan, India, etc.

The same shift of warming temperatures affects wind movement patterns and prolonged the 2019 wildfires in Australia.

Climate change also have a major link of spreading Pandemic:

  1. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, we see how curtailment of civilian movement created a demand shock for oil, inducing a price crash of West Texas intermediate which in turn aggravated stock market decline.
  2. Impacts of the same transcend national boundaries, exactly in the case of climate change-induced risks.
  3. The calls to decarbonise global infrastructure is timely, especially in developing countries like India and China, which carry much of the world’s human burden and have the least capacity for investing in green technology.
  4. The current pandemic can cost us up to $9 trillion. Experts claim that an additional investment of 10 per cent on the global health budget to improve pandemic preparedness and research could have helped us avert such a disaster.
  5. If development investments focus on short-term optimum system performance instead of long-term resiliency, we can see how adversely and exponentially this impacts society and economy.
  6. We need to have long-term resilience solutions at the core of planning if we are to, at the very least, reduce our risk from climate change and sustainability.
  7. In this, we can clearly see how both a pandemic and climate change are physical shocks that act as risk multipliers and have knock-on effects on the overall systems which help in the survival of eight billion humans on Earth.

Climate Change will be Future Pandemic across the globe:

Moreover, failure to act over climate change also complements the risk of future pandemics.

Rising land temperatures (forming urban heat islands) increases the probabilities of infectious disease spread such as dengue.

The risk of pandemics and epidemics is, thus, not only restricted to existing diseases but also more dangerous pathogens of the past which lay in melting permafrost.

There is an eagerness to get the developmental engine back and running. The lack of fiscal capacity to fund or sustain investments in green energy, however, means short-term gains in limiting global carbon dioxide emissions achieved during the recent lockdowns will be quickly lost on return to normalcy.

The same thing happened right after the 2008 financial crisis:

Climate change may indirectly affect the COVID-19 response, as it undermines environmental determinants of health, and places additional stress on health systems.

More generally, most emerging infectious diseases, and almost all recent pandemics, originate in wildlife, and there is evidence that increasing human pressure on the natural environment may drive disease emergence.

Strengthening health systems, improved surveillance of infectious disease in wildlife, livestock and humans, and greater protection of biodiversity and the natural environment, should reduce the risks of future outbreaks of other new diseases.

At the current pace of new renewable energy capacity addition, India will need to add nearly 30 gigawatts renewable energy in the next three years to achieve its 2022 Renewable Energy commitments.

Even though global informal alliances called for the green stimulus to be a part of economic recovery programs in the post-COVID-19 era, not much would be done in India and other developing countries when millions face unemployment and food scarcity.

Have measures to contain COVID-19 reduced air pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases?

  1. Air pollution is a serious health risk. It kills approximately 7 million people every year and is responsible for one third of all deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease.
  2. Over 90% of the global population lives in places where the WHO outdoor air quality guideline levels are not met, and about two-thirds of this exposure is caused by burning of fossil fuels, which also drives climate change.
  3. Efforts to control COVID-19 transmission have reduced economic activity and led to temporary improvements in air quality in some areas.
  4. In contrast, as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that drive climate change persist for a long time in the atmosphere, temporary emissions reductions only have a limited effect on atmospheric concentrations.
  5. Carbon dioxide levels at observing stations around the world in the first months of 2020 have been higher than in 2019.
  6. Environmental improvements resulting from the COVID-19 response may be reversed by a rapid expansion of polluting economic activities once the measures have ended, unless there is a clear focus to promote equity, environmental health, around a just transition to a green economy.
  7. Any short-term environmental benefits as a result of COVID-19 come at an unacceptable human and economic cost, and are no substitute for planned and sustained action on air quality and climate.


Recent debates on the Environmental Impact Assessment Draft 2020 have shown that the government can thoroughly disregard environmental consequences of unsustainable growth in an effort to stimulate the economy.

Remedies for climate change must be introduced in our efforts to combat the current pandemic and government stimulus should be channelled to zero-carbon infrastructure projects.

This will not only help us avert the next big disaster for which risk conditions are being actively met by changing climatic risk conditions, but also help create more jobs in the green industry to provide long-term resilience in our built environment.