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Corona threatens climate adaptation of the most vulnerable

Cricket Ground, Dhaka (Bangladesh)

Despite our own concerns, we “in the West” should start to look beyond our own noses: In order to achieve the global climate goals despite the corona crisis, our support for the “vulnerable” people in the “vulnerable” regions must be different.

I belong to those who would like to see the corona crisis as a historic opportunity for a rethink of climate potection and our adaption to climate change. But I am also one of the sceptics who doubt that this opportunity will be seized. I fear the German political magazine “Der Spiegel” is right when it predicts “a drama, that is looming on the horizon for climate policy in the coming months and years: If the economy collapses abruptly, then climate protection will once again be at the bottom of the list – partly because nobody wants to spend money on a green turnaround.”

And as always, nowhere will this drama be greater than in the most vulnerable regions of the world. Bangladesh has been an admirable role model of a third world country’s politics to cope with climate change. Now, these promising developments are in danger.

Saleemul Huq, one of the most respectful global climate activist I have met, has written a most interesting column in today’s edition of the bangladeshi newspaper “The Daily Star”.

As befits his character, Saleemul Huq writes in detail about the opportunities for climate protection that could/must arise from the corona crisis.

But of course he also knows about the danger of “the looming drama”. He writes about“the inevitable economic chaos and recession that is starting to happen already and will get a lot worse before it gets better. Bangladesh, with its globally linked economy, is likely to see significant negative impacts on manufacturing, exports and possibly even our own food production going forward. Hence, even though the worst is yet to come, we must prepare for the immediate economic downturn as well as think about the future path to recovery once the worst is over. “

You have to know that Bangladesh sees itself as a “development miracle” . The statistics are impressive, indeed. I.e. the number of people living in extreme poverty has ben reduced since the mid-seventies from 19% to 9%. Not least because of the fast-growing manufactoring sector, incl. the garment industry demonised in “the west”, which has lifted millions of women out of extrem poverty, which in turn has contributed to a spectacular decrease of the fertility rate of 7 to 2 children per woman from 1970 to 2017.

However, when travel as a westerner through the country, you still see a lot of poverty.

Anyway, now, the bangladeshi newspaper “The Business Standard” makes a gloomy forecast:

“The virus will bring economic shocks. Tangible economic shocks can be categorised into two: firstly, purely medical shocks – as the affected persons cannot contribute to GDP and secondly, the economic impact of public and private containment measures – things like school, office and factory closures, travel restrictions, and quarantines. 
Hence, Bangladesh will face an economic shock by declining export and tourism revenue in a large-scale due to restricted export policies and travel bans.”

It is not difficult to predict that countries like Bangladesh and many others in the Third World will place climate protection “at the bottom of the list” (to cite “Spiegel” again), if only for short-term survival needs.

However, in these countries, it will again be the most vulnerable and the poorest people who will be most affected by the drama:

“Millions of families who were already poor and vulnerable before the COVID-19 outbreak face impossible decisions about food, healthcare, and survival.”
In a dramatic appeal on the blog of Asia Development Bank, Amir Jilani describes the impending human drama in sober economist language:

“The direct economic impacts of sickness and death are higher costs and lower incomes for families affected by the virus. Rising health care costs coupled with lost wages and jobs can trigger spikes in poverty.
Disease outbreaks also have indirect impacts, disrupting production and consumption across the economy. These impacts disproportionately affect poor workers and families, particularly in the informal sector. “

What is described here for Asia applies equally to the rest of the Third World, to Africa and large parts of South America, where the governments and health care systems are much less fit than in Asia.

What makes the situation even worse is that today about 1 billion people in the third world live in slums – in a confined, narrow space, where social distancing is not so easy to realize, and under sometimes dire hygienic conditions.

We “in the West”, despite our own concerns, should start to look beyond our own noses: There’s something coming up.

We are challenged: In order to achieve the global climate goals despite the corona virus, our support for the “vulnerable” people in the “vulnerable” regions must be different.
Demanding sacrifices or “renunciations” from these people and regions for the sake of climate protection seems monstrous.

Many, not least people from the climate movement, should jump over their shadows and put some of their selfish (local) goals behind them, for example by buying (cheap) T-shirts at H&M to prevent bangladeshi women who work in the (rightly) criticized factories from losing their jobs.

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