How COVID-19 vaccination has become a climate metaphor

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For years and years, climate policy experts have argued that the issue has been pushed off the stage at world summits to make way for the geopolitical conflict dujour. This trend has long frustrated climate advocates who have sought to make leaders understand that the scientific reality of climate change is just as urgent — if not more so — than other taste topics of the month.

With this in mind, it was notable when many of these same climate advocates harshly criticized last week’s G7 leaders ’summit hosted by the UK for failing to adequately address another issue: the Covid-19 pandemic. In statement after statement, climate watchdogs have approached what they often characterized as inadequate support from the world’s richest nations to tackle the pandemic in their poorest counterparts. Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network, described the pandemic and climate change as “twin crises” and said the summit did not “measure them”. Nick Mabey, head of the E3G climate group, called the G7 for not offering “enough financial firepower to tackle global COVID, economic and climate crises”. And Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, has demanded a waiver of the vaccination patent.
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It’s a remarkable replacement. When COVID-19 first emerged, many in the climate world Fearful efforts to tackle pandemic will distract from efforts to tackle climate change. Today, climate advocates argue that the two should be faced hand in hand. This change is partly practical: leaders in many developing countries will be more likely to focus on the pandemic rather than climate change if their situation on the ground does not improve. And, with the fast-paced UN climate summit in November in Glasgow approaching, the situation on the ground may need to change rapidly to give officials adequate time to prepare.

But, in a sense, the rhetorical shift between climate activists can be as symbolic as it is practical: climate advocates fear that failure to muster a strong response to COVID-19 will send a signal to developing countries. development path that rich nations will leave high and dry as the impacts of climate change begin to grow. This, many believe, would hamper motivation to engage in mitigation efforts in the developing world – as needs grow more urgently. “In some ways, the vaccination problem is a metaphor for the larger climate problem,” says Alden Meyer, an international long-term climate policy expert who serves as a senior partner at E3G.

When you look closely, there are a number of issues related to the fight against COVID-19 that map directly to the fight against climate change. Patent waivers have become a point of contention, as some argue that the release of intellectual property surrounding vaccines would be allows poorer countries to manufacture vaccines locally. In the fight against climate change, developing countries have for years called on their wealthiest counterparts to share technological know-how to enable them to reduce emissions – even if it meant companies losing their potential revenues. .

Stopping money has also been a key point of contention both in COVID-19 and in climate talks. Prior to the Paris Agreement, a group of rich countries pledged to send about $ 100 billion annually to the developing world to help fund climate efforts. Rich countries have repeatedly reaffirmed this promise – even at the G7 last week – but the money has yet to materialize on that scale. (You can read the piece by my colleague Ciara Nugent on climate finance and the G7 here). The fact that many poor countries facing pandemic-related budget crunches have not received much help from their wealthier counterparts does not inspire much confidence in how things will turn out when it comes to climate change.

Events such as the upcoming UN climate conference in Glasgow typically attract tens of thousands of participants from around the globe. And, contrary to many geopolitical approaches, delegates from poorer countries, particularly those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, often have significant influence. What if those countries don’t have adequate access to vaccines since then? The UK has promised to vaccinate “accredited delegations who could not get otherwise”, but the outlook is not good. Will climate negotiators from developing countries be vaccinated while elderly people in vulnerable homes remain at risk? Even if they show up, will these government leaders be afraid to make aggressive commitments regarding the climate since their people are suffering from a pandemic?

Time will tell. In the end, however, there is an inescapable conclusion: tackling the pandemic will help the world cope with climate change.

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