Coronavirus hits economy, way of life

The coronavirus pandemic has extensively reshaped not only Samoa’s economy but its social structures and broader way of life, a senior Government official says. 

The Assistant Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E.), Galumalemana Anne Rasmussen, made the remarks during a web seminar this week. It was hosted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (S.P.R.E.P.).

She added that the global lockdown has decreased air travel and greenhouse emissions, but not enough to slow the rate of climate change and its threat to Pacific populations’ security and livelihoods. 

This week’s online seminar is the third in the “Transitioning to a Post-Pandemic Pacific” series of talks, subtitled “Double Jeopardy: COVID-19 brings heat to climate change urgency.”

The event was hosted by the Secretariat’s Climate Change Resilience (C.C.R.) programme.

The online seminar featured a panel composed of representatives from S.P.R.E.P.; the non-profit research body Climate Analytics; a representative from Samoa; and a youth climate advocate from Fiji. 

The panel discussed the impact of the coronavirus pandemic  - also known as COVID-19 - on the Pacific region’s response to climate change. 

Galumalemana said the silver lining from COVID-19 has been the temporary slowing down of emissions of greenhouse gases and an improvement in local air quality. But she noted that the planet is still breaking climate change records.

“We do not have the luxury of operation on a ‘business-as-usual’ basis because, supported by the latest science and facts, the world can expect an even more severe global catastrophe with the projected impacts of climate change on the environment, ecosystems, livelihoods, public infrastructure, human life, and the main drivers of the world’s economy,” Galumalemana said. 

The Deputy Director-General of S.P.R.E.P., Stuart Chape, used the online seminar to call for the Pacific and its partners to maintain momentum in the fight against climate change and increase climate change action despite the COVID-19 led economic slowdown. 

“One of the great thinkers from the small islands said during a recent webinar – you can quarantine COVID-19 but you cannot quarantine climate change,” Mr. Chape said. 

A Climate Change Adviser from S.P.R.E.P., Espen Ronneberg, said that even the most conservative estimates anticipate historic declines in carbon emissions this year because of the pandemic and air travel restrictions. But she said the atmosphere continues to be overloaded with carbon. 

“The skies may be temporarily less polluted because so many of us are staying home and are not flying, the carbon lingers and can sit in the atmosphere for hundreds and thousands of years,” he said.

Mr.  Ronneberg said that one year of relatively declining carbon output would do little to address climate change without fundamental, long-term transformation. 

“These declines we have seen this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic are unheard of, but the impacts are likely to be short-lived. So it’s clear that there is much uncertainty, but the focus should be on keeping up this momentum of climate change programmes,” he said. 

A 16-year-old youth climate activist from the Fiji islands, AnnMary Raduva, also used the occasion to relay a message on climate advocacy.

“As a teen climate activist, I see potential solutions that lack political will. The speed of border restrictions and lockdowns at the height of COVID-19 shows that governments can act if they want to – with a political will and public buy-in,” she said.

“It is my prayer that our climate advocacy will not be watered down then lockdowns are lifted. We are stronger together.”  

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