The unprecedented public health emergency triggered by the COVID -19 pandemic and its multi-faceted impact on people’s lives around the world is taking a heavy toll on Asia and the Pacific.
Countries in our region are striving to mitigate the massive socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, which is also expected to affect the region’s economic health. In its annual Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2020 launched today, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) expects growth in Asia-Pacific developing economies to slow down significantly this year.
Bold investments to sustain the region’s physical and economic well-being are imperative. The Survey advises policymakers to protect the economic health of the region with measures that support affected businesses and households and prevent economic contagion. To tackle COVID-19 in developing Asia-Pacific countries, the Survey also calls for an estimated increase in health emergency spending by $880 million per year through to 2030. Fiscal support will be crucial in enhancing health responders’ ability to monitor the spread of the pandemic and caring for infected people. ESCAP is also calling on Asia-Pacific countries to consider setting up a regional health emergency preparedness fund.
The pandemic is also an opportunity for us to rethink our economic growth path that has come at a heavy cost to people and planet. According to the latest ESCAP assessment on implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Asia and the Pacific is not on track to achieve any of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030, with regression on several environmental Goals.
This stands in stark contrast with the region’s impressive gains in material prosperity, which have been powered by intensive resource use. We are currently paying the price amid a public health emergency in a region with 97 of the 100 most air-polluted cities in the world and 5 of the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change. Economic policymaking is understandably focused on maximizing growth to reduce poverty and create jobs. Yet, we need to question this when the methods of growth undermine its sustainability over the long term.
The 2020 Survey is proposing a transition towards a growth path that ensures we bequeath a healthy planet to future generations. It is calling for a shift in the paradigm of production and consumption, which is at the core of all economic activities.
To bring about this fundamental shift in the way we produce and consume, we need to adopt the motto of ‘no more business as usual’ for all stakeholders in planetary well-being, namely governments, businesses and consumers. Policymakers should not lose sight of a looming climate crisis, but rather design economic stimulus packages with social inclusion and environmental sustainability built into every decision.
The Survey identifies challenges and constraints to making this switch for each group of stakeholders. The good news is that it is possible to take on these challenges and align the goals of all stakeholders with the 2030 Agenda’s goal of sustainability.
In particular, the Survey urges governments in the region to embed sustainability in policymaking and implementation, transition out of fossil fuel dependency and support the greening of finance. The region continues to provide $240 billion worth of annual subsidies to fossil fuels while investments in renewables remain at $150 billion.
Businesses can integrate sustainability by factoring in environmental, social and governance aspects in investment analysis and decisions. Carbon pricing will be a key tool to reduce emissions and mitigate climate-related risks. The region is already a leader in adopting the emerging sustainable business paradigms of the shared economy and circular economy.
All of us as consumers must understand the importance of switching to sustainable lifestyles. This will begin with increasing awareness of the impact of consumer choices on people and planet. Governments will have to play a significant role in encouraging consumer choices through positive reinforcements, small suggestions and eco-labelling of products.
Integrating sustainability also requires international collaboration, given the interconnected world in which we live. Asia-Pacific governments need to coordinate their climate action, particularly the development of climate-related standards and policies. Having achieved so much, yet also at the risk of losing so much, the Asia-Pacific region stands at a pivotal moment in its development journey. The next phase of its economic transformation should be more sustainable, with cleaner production and less material-intensive lifestyles.
With headwinds to the region’s development journey strengthened by the COVID-19 pandemic, let us heed the United Nations Secretary General’s call to mobilize for a decade of action to build a sustainable and resilient future.
Air Pollution and Coronavirus Infection
Air pollution has increased the severityof the infection of coronavirus worldwide. A report by the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs of UK directs the government to deal with the issue of coronavirus and air pollution concurrently.Although, the determinants of thiswidespread pandemic are complex and definite conclusion has not been reached yet. However, the growing evidence around the globesupports the hypothesis that air pollution is one of the important determinantsof coronavirus infection.
From the analysis of 120 cities in ChinaYang and Zheng (2020) suggests aconnection between exposure to dirty air and coronavirus infection. Similarly, Harvard university group indicatesa link between coronavirus infection and bad air quality across the USA. They claim that peoples are more likely to get infected from coronavirus in polluted areas than those living in clean areas. Another analysis on European data byYaronOgen, at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in German, concludes air pollution as one of the most important determinantsof coronavirus infection. The analysis shows that 78% of corona affected area in Spain, Italy, France, and Germany arein the most polluted region. Similarly, Manu Sasidharanand Ajit Singh (2020)identify a correlationlink between coronavirus infection and air pollution in London.
These facts can be supported by the theory that more exposureto air pollutionlead to increased heart and respiratory diseases. Thesediseases eventually increase the risk of severe symptoms of coronavirus.The decades of research have shown that air pollutiondamages the lungs and increase heart diseases. Anindirect link,therefore, emerges between past and present exposure to air pollution and coronavirus infection.
Notably, the researchers also have investigated the impact ofa temporary drop in air pollution during the lockdown on coronavirus infection. The scientists in China claim that during lockdowns 25% decrease in air pollution might have prevented 24000 to 36000 premature deaths over a month. Another analysis by the searchers from Yale School USA concludes that lockdowns in China have brought health benefits that outnumbered the coronavirus infections. Similarly, Venter et al. (2020) evaluate the impact of lockdowns in 27 countries. They conclude that lockdown has helped to avoid 7400 premature deaths mostly in India and China. TheCentre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) in Europe reveal 11000 premature death avoidance due to controlled air pollution in Europe including the UK.
The disproportionate impact of this pandemicon the people from different ethnicminorities inEurope and the USA also a matter of concern. The minorities inthese advanced nationsgenerally are known to have higher-level exposure to air pollution. This fact also develops a link between exposure of bad air quality and coronavirus infection. Moreover, Damian Carrington -A environment editor at The Guardian reports the presence of coronavirus on the particular of air pollution and raised the question of airborne spread of this pandemic.
The potential interaction between air pollution and Coronavirus infection is very relevant to manage the pandemic in future.The WHO have started to warn those cities that have a higher level of air pollution to reinforcetheir preparedness against this pandemic.The general message from the above discussion emerges: the efforts to curtail this pandemic should be prioritizedin most polluted areasand regulatory standards for air pollution must be strengthened. The industries and transport must not be given a permit to pollute our air when respiratory diseases facilitate the virus.
At the movement air quality in cities allover the world is pretty good due to reduced economic activities, however as the economies will be in full swing after the pandemic is over, air pollution will be again high making the people more exposed any possible second wave of the virus. It is because current modes of production and consumption around the globe are high pollution intensive. Any economic recovery under these modes,would damage the health of the people and add a huge cost to health services. To make sure a healthy recovery from this pandemic, the current model of economic growth that believe pollute first and clean later must be completely overhauled.Ironically, nowthe world does not haveanother model to follow.
The prospective interaction between air quality and coronavirus also has important implication for developing countries like Pakistan.The megacities: Karachi, Lahore,Multan,Peshawar, and Hyderabad are known to have dangerous toxins in the air that citizens are compelled to inhale. Maria Iqbal, 2019 warned that air pollution in the cities of Pakistan had reduced life expectancy. It worsened the respiratory problem in all age group as it contains chemicals that damage inner linings of the lungs directly.ThoughI have not found any study developing an empirical link between air pollution and coronavirus infection in the context of Pakistan, however, the results of above-mentioned studies can be inferred for Pakistan. Like other parts of the world, air pollution has likely made Pakistanis more vulnerable to coronavirus by making their lungs and heart weaker.I, therefore, recommend the provision of quality air should be part of health policy dealing the coronavirus.
Green Politics: What Drives Us and What Drove Us?
Authors: Aaditya Vikram Sharma and Anurag Mishra
In the previous installment, the authors discussed the ‘discovery’ of damage to the environment and the inception of the Green movement. In this part, we discuss the genesis of green politics. The authors will discuss both the western as well as Indian notions in this respect. The article starts with determination of the ethical connect between green politics in the ancient world and the contemporary world. We then discuss the origin of green political movements in the west and our country, India. The discussion is varied as it spans through continents and centuries.
Connecting the Past and the Present
Unfailingly in all cultures and civilizations, ancient or modern, nature has had a role to play. From the Nature worshipping Totemistic and Animistic societies to Christians and Hindus, nature has been present in one form or the other, revered or feared. While the Bhagavad Gita talks about the material world being the manifestation of God himself, the Bible teaches that humans are ‘stewards’ of the Earth. The intent behind all these teachings is to make men have compassion and regard for the surroundings that they live in. Even the modern, secular world which touts itself as rational and based on science eventually realized that preservation of nature meant the preservation of human life. To pick up from the previous article, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that we, the modern world humans, have just started to take steps and how long we tread this path will decide if it will lead to our preservation or our inevitable doom.
Of late, the environmental agenda has seemingly come to take the centre stage in world politics. It is evident from the fact that as many as sixty six countries today have a dedicated ministry in their governmental set up working for the protection and preservation of the environment. As many as 197 countries are party to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of Ozone Layer, Montreal Protocol and United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change. The four most subscribed treaties are concerning the environment in one or the other way. The pressing need that the world (albeit not all countries) feels to protect the environment is barely two decades old. However, it is one of the foremost issues today.
Origins in the West
The adherents of green politics state that it is not just a political ideology. In fact, they consider it to be a higher worldview which needs to be respected by all. Further, the theoretical groundwork for their policies is derived from varied sources and persons such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jakob von Uexküll and Baruch Spinoza. These people influenced green thought in their advocacy of long-term seventh generation foresight, and on the personal responsibility of every individual to make moral choices. In the west, ancient Roman philosophers argued about protecting nature.
Green politics first began as conservation and preservation movements, such as the Sierra Club, founded in San Francisco in 1892 in the US. However, the modern inception of the movement in the West can be pointed to the Dutch group Kabouters. This political fringe group proposed the ‘Green Plans’ for their constituencies and the country.
As pointed out in the previous installment, the first political party to be created with its basis in environmental issues was the United Tasmania Group, founded in Australia in March 1972 to fight against deforestation and the creation of a dam that would damage Lake Pedder; whilst it only gained three percent votes in state elections, it had, according to Derek Wall, “inspired the creation of Green parties all over the world.”
Listing all the green political parties is beyond the purview of this article. However, it is pointed out that the movement sprang across the western world and by the 1980’s, Green political parties were present in the United Kingdom, France, West Germany and other States.
India of the 21st century has been among the fastest growing economies of the world. With a $5 trillion economy plan in the offing (even during the current pandemic), it is only likely that the environment will be at the receiving end of the unprecedented economic growth which we are to witness in the coming years. Amidst the hullabaloo of firing all the economic engines at once, it becomes all the more pressing that we stop for a moment and do some stock taking.
As discussed earlier, environmentalism is not a stranger to Indian society or politics. With movements like Chipko and Narmada Bachao Andolan as the lodestar of India’s environmentalism, it is evident that the country has both a long and powerful history of environmental action. However, a careful analysis of green movements in India reveals that the environmental action in the country has inevitably been centred around habitational and livelihood concerns and not the ecological concerns per se. A study published by the CMS ENVIS Centre on Environment and Media, New Delhi makes it amply clear that environmental concerns aren’t ‘primetime material’ either, even in the teeth of a climate emergency. The coverage of news relating to the environment is mostly with regard to either a natural catastrophe or disaster or human concerns springing from such an event. The reactions from political leaders too follow a similar approach as ‘Green’ is not the color which wins elections in a country where poverty is still widespread. The environmental action for protection of forests and ecosystems still remains confined to acts of political mendicancy by the activists and a full fledged “Environmental Mass Movement” has so far failed to take off.
In this installment, we have discussed the inception of the green political movement in the Global North and India. We have also considered the presence of green political parties in these regions. The next part will cover the contemporary green political party movement as well as the future of green politics and ancillary issues. The part will relate the future with current developments in International Environment Law.
The dilemma of Environmental Politics
Since the emergence of neo-liberal globalization in the 1980s, it has changed the socio-political, economic and environmental discourse across the global spectrum. Basically, it was the rise of Green politics, Green parties and rising civil society concern about the ecological disaster that has shaped the discourse of environmental politics back in the 1980s. As a major field of the contemporary comparative politics, the major focus of environmental politics and diplomacy is on the policy making and strategies to tackle global warming and the climate change. Moreover, as discourse, it encompasses two major premise that shapes the foundation of the environmental politics. First and Foremost, environmental politics examines the connection between human realm and the natural world. Secondly, as a major subject of the contemporary political discourse it emphasizes on the ideological debate over ecological issues.
As an illustration, with in-depth examination of the ecological degradation and environmental apocalypse, the major focus of the environmental politics is on conservation and preservation of the natural outlook of the mother earth. Basically, it was the end of the world with shocking event of Hiroshima that has brought the discourse of environmentalism to the forefront. As a result, the broad range of the environmental issues such as air pollution, water pollution and land pollution has given birth to the Green parties across the west in the 1970s. Hence, it was the emergence of the Green parties across the west which have further explored the major themes surrounding environmentalism in the 1980s.
In this respect, over the last two decades, the major themes of environmental politics such as climate change, global warming, ecological degradation and the loss of biodiversity have exacerbated the environmental debate. Perhaps, these major themes were developed into major environmental narratives across the west by exposing their impacts on the human realm through films, songs and literary discourses. In the broader context, the popular environmental narratives across the media and political landscape have also brought the discourse of neo-liberalism and globalization to the forefront. It is because, according Green politics experts, Globalization has kept the internationalization of trade on the top priority while despising its impacts on human environment. Perhaps, this is what has brought the debate of social justice and environmental politics at the crossroad.
In contrast, it was the relationship between the human societies and the environment that has brought the issue of social justice and political constancy at the center of the ecological discourse. However, the concept of social justice elaborates about the human conduct in changing and transforming the natural world. In this respect, the basic premise of the social justice theory focuses on correcting the conduct of human actions by making human behavior more environmental-centered. Moreover, according to the ecologists and environmental theorists humans need to change their behavior towards the natural world in order to tackle the crisis of environment and ecological degradation. Perhaps, the ecologists mainly establish their political arguments concerning environmental crisis by using the theories of social justice advocated by the ancient philosopher Plato.
Basically, the whole context of Platonic philosophy concerning social justice surrounds the human nature and behavior. Moreover, the theory of social justice advocated by Plato in his book ‘The Republic’ lays much emphasis on social ethics and morality to regulate the human nature and human behavior. Perhaps, it is only through the social justice theory of Plato, we can explain the relationship between social justice and political stability. Moreover, the close connection between the social justice and political stability has clearly explained by Plato in first two books of the republic.
In both books, Plato clearly distinguishes between the Just and unjust societies from the standpoint of politics and peace. Although, the philosophy of ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle does not directly discuss about the environmental politics. However, the distinction between the Just and unjust societies explicitly explain about the dynamics of social justice in contrast to human behavior. Moreover, it is the moral and metaphysical philosophy of Plato in the Republic, which anticipates about the concepts such as regulation, maintenance and sustainability from the moral and ethical standpoint. For instance, in the book II of the Republic the discussion begins with Plato’s brother, who challenge Socrates to explain to them about the actual meaning of Justice in contrast to human behavior. In this way, the discussion begins, in which Socrates explains the dynamics of justice from the perspective of Just actions to Plato’s brother.
In contrast, after thoroughly examining the social justice theories of ancient philosophers; it can be said that their theories presents a great emphasis about the concept of ‘sustainability’. Thus, from standpoint of Plato’s social justice theory, we can draw a conclusion by relating the human behavior and conduct with major environmental themes such as Climate Change and Global warming.
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