The health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the resulting economic slowdown, commanded global attention in the past year. People across the globe closely followed the news of the outbreak, from the first wave to the second, and the emergence of vaccines. But while the world focused on combating the pandemic, many countries were also struck by the impacts of climate change.
In 2020, extreme weather events fueled by climate change caused the death of tens of thousands of people and financial losses to the tune of US$120 billion, according to a recent report by the London-based Christian Aid foundation. China and India faced US$40 billion worth of losses as a result of floods. The US lost US$60 billion due to wildfires. Cyclone Amphan wreaked havoc on the Bay of Bengal, causing damages valued at US$13 billion. Swarms of locusts – proliferated by the changes in climate – cost African countries US$8.5 billion. Ireland, the UK, and other countries endured a US$2.7-billion loss because of Storm Ciara. And in Sudan, floods killed 138 people.
The Economist Intelligence Unit's Climate Change Resilience Index forecasts that climate change may set back the world economy by US$7.9 trillion by 2050 due to natural catastrophes triggered by it.
Despite the repercussions of COVID-19, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions – the main cause of climate change – and the improvement in air quality during the past few months has proven that global cooperation is the key to overcoming environmental challenges.
Given the lessons we drew from the pandemic, our ability to confront climate change as an international community relies on a wholehearted commitment from people and countries to pursuing green recovery across all sectors.
Green recovery involves implementing environmental standards of work across all sectors and levels – from individual behaviors to countries’ legislation. Owing to their future-oriented vision, UAE leaders have embraced a path that expedites the country’s pursuit of a green recovery. Under their directives, the UAE has adopted the green economy and circular economy principles, established sustainable cities, deployed renewable energy solutions, expanded protected areas, initiated country-wide planting drives, promoted sustainable finance, launched a national climate change plan and climate change adaptation program, and submitted its second nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement, in which it has raised its climate ambitions.
The fast progress of climate change that has resulted in increasingly destructive impacts urged UN Secretary-General António Guterres to call on all leaders worldwide to declare a State of Climate Emergency in their countries.
A collective green recovery must be the way forward if we are to ensure the sustainability of the planet and a brighter future for the current and next generations.
To coordinate green recovery efforts, leaders from all over the world must come together and shape a shared vision. The 2021 edition of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week that just started provides an ideal platform for this mission, as it brings together decision makers, experts, youth, as well as representatives of every sector to devise feasible and effective solutions to sustainability challenges.
By Dr Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment.