The current pandemic has dramatically changed the face of the world over the past couple of months. Not only are the countries’ economies being profoundly impacted, but more magnified political cleavages are taking place between great powers, as observed between the United States and China, for instance. The two countries are blaming each other in the context of the pandemic, and the U.S. is considering a range of sanctions, which could seriously compromise future cooperation efforts. However, it is possible to argue that the unprecedented impacts of the current crisis have almost overshadowed the changes that the environment has witnessed. The worldwide stay-at-home order has noticeably improved the quality of biodiversity. From air and water quality to wildlife restoration, data proves that the imposed quarantine regime has initiated some profound changes. For instance, in China, carbon emissions fell by 25% at the start of the year, and the proportion of days with good air quality was much more significant across the country. Similar trends were observed in Europe, saving 11.000 premature deaths, a report says. Some questions, then, arise: Can these positive trends last? Can they serve as a reference point for future efforts when it comes to environmental sustainability? In order to answer these questions, it is essential to look further and deeper to understand the implications that the current pandemic brings to the table.
In this article, I argue that the COVID-19 pandemic will compromise the global efforts to preserve the environment if world governments do not adopt a new framework for environmental governance. While environmental improvements have given hope to many during the quarantine, in reality, they seem to resemble a mirage because they primarily concern the short term. There is, unfortunately, no guarantee that such a dynamic will represent the new normal. Because climate change does not wait, it will be essential for major states to lead the fight against climate change to design a renewed, more flexible, and innovative framework to adapt to the current worldwide shutdown. This strategy is especially relevant as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has specified that the world will need to implement fundamental shifts by 2030, which suggests that the year 2020 is of particular importance. Given the time it takes to design and implement achievable targets, countries need to start revising national environmental plans this year.
On the one hand, it is rational to think that once social and economic opportunities will be available, global emissions will rise again, and we will find ourselves facing the same problem of climate change without having found any remedy. Perhaps, we will even have to face this environmental crisis more severely. On the other hand, what is even more critical is the idea that the crisis will delay (if not cancel) ambitious projects and significant investments related to the development of clean energy structures. The International Energy Agency writes in a report that the pandemic is expected to delay major renewable deployments as well as projects under construction. The report argues that the current situation has “a direct impact on the commissioning of renewable electricity projects, biofuel facilities, and renewable heat investments.” The United States is no exception as the Solar Energy Industries Association has stated that the economic crisis could lead the solar energy sector to lose a significant amount of its workforce and, ultimately, to slow down the green transition considerably. The crisis has projected a lot of uncertainties as to the future of environmental initiatives. It is, therefore, essential to find the right formula between current capabilities and needs.
However, in an effort to support small and medium-sized companies in the renewable energy sector in the immediate time, several governments have addressed the concerns linked to the cancellation of projects from a legal perspective. For instance, France and Germany, which have been the leading environmental voices in Europe over the past few years, adopted policy changes that allow for more flexibility in project commissioning by extending deadlines. While it is impossible to judge the effectiveness of these measures at the moment, it is worth noting that a number of governments are currently working along a similar line of action, which can potentially open new avenues for international cooperation. Countries that have started adjusting their environmental policy frameworks understood that it is a necessity to keep environmental matters as a top priority, despite having a growing list of tasks to resolve on their agendas. However, will such measures, which appear to set a basis for further environmental policies in a changing context, survive deeper economic troubles? Or will they even make any difference amid such a deep crisis?
Undoubtedly, it is worth emphasizing the increasing national public debts certain countries are experiencing (and will experience in the future), which might seriously compromise the development of future environmental measures. Governments might have to shift their focus to purely economic matters until the national (and global) situation settles down. For instance, while the President of France Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly mentioned that the country will fight for the life of every french citizen at all costs, the country now faces an exorbitant public debt. More precisely, the public deficit is increasing every day and might reach 9% of the GNP, while the public debt might jump by 115% in the coming weeks. To alleviate the dramatic burden of an economic depression, some experts have suggested the possibility of canceling the public debt by the European Central Bank, which is an idea that, today, seems to be in the realm of utopia. Despite these alarming statistics, it is necessary to give credit to both French and German leaders who clearly set the terms of the debate and launched the recovery process in Europe by proposing a European economic recovery plan.
Furthermore, to contain the spread of the virus and respect the global lockdown enforced by governments, major Summits have been postponed, thus jeopardizing the environmental dynamic that has been developing over the past few years at the global level (despite being relatively slow and criticized). This is the case of the EU-China Climate Summit and the COP26 UN Climate Summit, both likely to be delayed by at least a year. The international community expected these two major events to set new and more ambitious emissions standards, along with renewed commitments and partnerships. In the case of the EU-China Summit, the likelihood of future climate agreements seems now increasingly distant as tensions remain relatively high due to the numerous speculations around the coronavirus pandemic. For what concerns COP26, experts are becoming increasingly concerned that a long gap until the Summit is rescheduled would make it more challenging to regain the momentum required for countries to comply with new environmental standards and national plans on carbon emissions cuts. When discussing environmental matters at the Summit, states are required to prepare a precise plan outlining how they intend to stay in line with the environmental standards established by the Paris Agreement However, this is something that most countries have failed to do for a variety of reasons. Another concern that can be added to the list is the fact that in addition to major Summits, other UN environmental conferences on biodiversity and related topics have been postponed, which questions how this all will fall back together in the appropriate way and in the proper time.
Due to all these complications that have occurred in a relatively short period, governments will need to think about the best course of action to take that could primarily support long-term shifts. Countries cannot simply follow the exact strategy that has been planned before this crisis, as it is known to all of us that the pandemic will leave severe scars at different levels of society. Also, while it is true that we have observed environmental improvements, it would be inappropriate to limit oneself by thinking that people will automatically become more environmentally conscious after experiencing a cleaner environment in the short term. Even though we have responded to the current crisis quite rapidly, durable responses to environmental degradation need not only strong policy support and a shift in consciousness but also a new global framework that would integrate climate ambitions within the economic recovery process. Instead of seeing these two challenges as separate, it is essential to see them as complementary, thus creating an even more powerful mission. As a brief by the OECD confirms, “recovery efforts will give countries a chance to make much-needed environmental improvements an integral part of the economic recovery, rather than such measures being perceived as an additional burden at a time of crisis.” The development of green economies, international partnerships, increased investments, and the modernization of health systems around the world are such elements that have long been on the table, and that will need to become a reality if we are to achieve sustainable goals. The reality is that our societies learn from chaos and crises and are in constant reaction, which is something that history has repeatedly demonstrated. While this model leaves room for improvements, it becomes crucial to adopt a more proactive strategy. As the French say, “il vaut mieux prévenir que guérir” (prevention is better than cure).
Here, it would not be entirely appropriate to target specific countries or groups of countries. Because the fight against climate change is a collective matter, it would be most relevant to look at the situation from a more global perspective. This can be done by writing down several steps countries might be thinking of taking in order not to compromise environmental efforts made thus far. This strategy is especially important as the room for effective manoeuvre to take decisive action can become more limited as time passes, and as governments continue to consider economic measures to support polluting industries and other businesses. As Angel Gurria, OECD Secretary-General, stated, “governments have a unique chance for a green and inclusive recovery that they must seize — a recovery that not only provides income and jobs, but also has broader goals, integrates strong climate and biodiversity action, and builds resilience.”
In this sense, one of the recommendations aiming at limiting the impact of COVID-19 on climate change efforts would be to align short term objectives with long term ones through a combination of innovative policies in order not to put aside environmental concerns. It would be wrong to think that economic matters need to be resolved first, as a strong economy requires a healthy environment. It is not in any country’s interest to compromise the improvements made in recent times. A second recommendation would be for governments to initiate a work in which they can start integrating environmental matters into the economic recovery policies, which include the most affected areas of the society. Integrating both issues at the same time, would facilitate later initiatives for Green economies, which is essential given the Intergovernmental Panel’s predictions on Climate Change. Finally, it would be necessary for governments to support the ongoing positive dynamic that parts of the world population have shown toward environmental matters during the quarantine regime. Thus, governments should be able to promote more effective environmental messages to show the benefits that a given population can gain from a more healthy environment, which, surprisingly enough, is not as evident when we think of the current standards of living in developed countries. As the OECD suggests, “underscoring the benefits to well-being and prosperity from more resilient societies can strengthen public support for measures aimed at enhancing environmental health.”
From our partner RIAC
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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