Governments around the world, private businesses, and even individuals are all concerned about the economic impact of Covid-19 pandemic. Their primary focus is to revive growth & development at any cost but the question is would these developmental policies take our focus away from climate change & environmental conservation? In less than a month, we have been given a glimpse of how the climate crisis can yank at the seams of a state already undone. We saw Cyclone Amphan transform from a tropical storm to one of the largest cyclones South Asia has ever seen in a matter of hours, aided by warmer than usual waters in the Bay of Bengal. We also saw Cyclone Nisarga barrel down on Maharashtra, the second pre-monsoon cyclone to hit the west coast in 127 years. Governments would have been hard-pressed to deal with such extremes even in the best of times.
There is growing debate about what the scarcity and privation wrought by the Covid-19 crisis will mean for our long-term response to climate change. There are two ways in which the pandemic can determine our response to climate change in the future: one is to treat this pandemic as an opportunity & work towards remodelling our economies & societies. Such remodelling can make our economic policies more environment friendly and this opportunity could enable the government, private businesses and civil societies to remodel our economy and make it more resilient towards natural disasters. This includes directing economic packages to areas that increase our resilience to natural disasters and technologies that reduce our emissions. On the personal front, this could be an opportunity to reinforce sustainable behaviour, for example, fewer morning commutes and less air travel, etc. The second response could mean a lost decade for environment conservation. As a result of pandemic & lockdown, the finances of government and private sector have come under a lot of strain. Their urgent priority is to revive economic growth and to revive industrial activities at any cost. The urgency with which governments are trying to revive economy and lack of funds with governments and private businesses might force them to shift their focus away from environmental conservation & climate change and invest on the promotion of economic & industrial activities. This second outcome could be disastrous for environment as well as for the well-being of mankind.
Crafting a response that carefully balances present and future will take a great deal of collective effort. Foremost, it will require policy ideas that deliberately marry employment and industrial priorities with green outcomes. Governments, NGOs & think tanks must come up with such economic policies that blend and integrate the priorities of environment conservation & climate change. Developmental policies that integrate environmental concerns are the best way forward in order to turn the pandemic into opportunity and make our environment and society more resilient to natural disasters. For example, the government can give a greater push for the manufacturing of solar equipment and electric cars. Such initiatives will not only help revive industrial activities and jobs but will also help in blending environment priorities into our economic policies. This process is our only hope for being creative about the twin challenges battering the country. We should be careful not to drag ourselves through one crisis only to emerge into another longer, less predictable, and unstoppable one.
The writer is member of J&K Youth Parliament & associated with J&K RTI movement.