As developed and developing countries continue to contend with the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on both communities and economies, there may be one domain of hope that is springing forth. The global environment seems to be the big winner in all of this.
Prior to the Coronavirus, the global effort was focused on trying to get the world community to agree to scale up its efforts to reduce global GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions to below pre-industrial levels. The Paris Accord was a great step forward until nations like the US decided to pull out of the agreement. That threatened the sustainability of the global financial commitments made towards fighting this existential global threat to the earth which we share with many societies.
Now that this global health pandemic has forced the temporary shutdown of many societies in this global village, we have seen the significant reduction in air and ground travel. This means that there has been a remarkable reduction in the emissions of GHGs in the atmosphere. The associated lessening of fossil fuel consumption has been a breath of fresh air to the environment both here in Barbados and in other developed and developing countries.
The big question now is how will global environmental policy be shaped going forward. For example, will SIDS like Barbados renew their commitment to the National Determine Contributions (NDCs) agreed to with the other member states of the United Nations some years ago where specific measurable GHG reduction targets were set by each nation including Barbados?
Maybe this is a good time for us to start thinking about the kind of sustainable environmental governance policies the DLP will propose to the people of Barbados and, by extension, the global community.
Any future environmental policy must be grounded in the science-based evidence that has been documented by agencies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) among others. I note the IPCC because it has for years conducted and published robust research on the environment and related issues.
In many ways, it reflects a keen understanding of the many environmental challenges facing the CARICOM region. These challenges now must be analyzed in the context of this current global health crisis.
As noted earlier, the environment has benefited from this COVID-19 period. The question now is how do we harness these benefits to ensure that we improve our domestic and global environmental policies. Of course, countries will have to balance their travel-based economic requirements with the need to protect the environment from the ravages of GHG emissions.
It cannot be business as usual, especially now we know that it only takes a virus like COVID-19 to pause life on the planet as we know it. Our living styles as well as our livelihoods have been disrupted in a substantial way. We have been awakened to the fact that there must be greater attention paid to our local food product and food security issues. This will mean that serious attention must be paid to our agricultural policies and practices, as well as an understanding of the important link between agriculture and the environment.
The national effort to address our transportation policy with a view to formulate progressive emissions standards and other related issues is an urgent national imperative. There was substantial work done between the Ministries of Environment and Transport during the time of the previous administration on this matter. If built upon, it would enhance the national effort to address critical environmental and public health issues, many of which have been brought to the fore during this current public health crisis.
The environment must become a pivotal domain that occupies the minds of the thought drivers of SIDS and other countries. Barbados has been in the forefront of discussing these and other related matters at the global level and that effort must be continued.
Dr. Denis S. Lowe
Former Minister of Environment