Climate Resilient Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic are Critical for Small Island Developing States

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Dr. Adelle Thomas - Director of the Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Research Centre at University of The Bahamas (UB) and Senior Researcher at Climate Analytics.

Compound crises may overwhelm the capacity of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to respond, with implications for the effectiveness of their response and contingency measures, a senior researcher and academician asserts in a newly-released contribution published in the London-based Climate Home news service. Director of the Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Research Centre at University of The Bahamas (UB) and Senior Researcher at Climate Analytics Dr. Adelle Thomas has called for a comprehensive approach to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that integrates climate resiliency.

SIDS are among the most vulnerable to the devastating effects of climate change and these countries are also grappling with the impact of the pandemic. “Just as compound events cannot be considered in isolation from each other, there must be a holistic approach to recovery that considers both the need for economic stimulation and climate change resiliency,” noted Dr. Thomas. “Fortunately, it appears that many of the lessons that are being learned from the pandemic are in line with the need for transformational and widespread change in response to the climate crisis.” Dr. Thomas, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change lead author on the upcoming Sixth Assessment, identified key areas on which SIDS should focus, from human rights to increasing local food production, as they develop resilience measures. “A focus on addressing the needs of the most vulnerable through a human rights-based approach has been identified as a key lesson from the pandemic, and is one of the basic tenets of climate resilient development.

The need to diversify economies from unbalanced reliance on tourism and to improve domestic food production to support food security have also been identified as crucial. It will be critical to ensure that climate resiliency is ingrained in the response to the pandemic in SIDS and that strong climate action continues to be supported. On March 15th, Bahamian authorities announced the first case of COVID-19 in the country, leading to incremental national restrictions which have included remote working from home, a shutdown of operations with the exception of essential services, suspension of air and sea travel and the declaration of a state of emergency. As of 17th April, there were 54 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas with 9 recovered cases and 9 deaths.

Meanwhile, The Bahamas is still in the recovery process from Hurricane Dorian, a killer storm which devastated Abaco and Grand Bahama in September 2019, leaving billions of dollars in damage. Dr. Thomas pointed out that the challenges of addressing tropical cyclones and the novel coronavirus have already been experienced in the Pacific, where Cyclone Harold has caused widespread destruction in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga. “These crises underscore the extreme vulnerability of SIDS and the need for an international response that limits global average warming in line with the Paris Agreement with transformational change that has been supported by science,” Dr. Thomas noted.

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