Escaping Pandora’s Box of Acceleration of Pandemics

Ranjan Roy, Ph.D

2 October, 2020 12:00 AM printer

Escaping Pandora’s Box of Acceleration of Pandemics

Ranjan Roy, Ph.D

The first wave of coronavirus has been devastated the entire planet. The second (and probably the third) waves of Covid-19 are still exploding globally. One message is clear that the pandemic is challenging past assumptions and future certainties. For instance, Covid-19 has illustrated the real meaning of ‘Planetary Emergency’. The top US infectious disease scientist Anthony Fauci warned that humanity might have entered “an age of pandemics.”

Recently, a scholarly article in the journal, Cell, said, “a deadly barrage” of pandemics is coming. The public health experts have cautioned that Covid-19 is the latest manifestation of global pandemics – a future scenario in which climate change may play a key role. A plethora of reports highlight almost certainly, the impacts of pandemics like Covid-19 are exacerbated by climate change.

Medical historian Dr. David Morens, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, USA, says, “I don’t have a crystal ball, but what we are seeing looks very much like an acceleration of pandemics.” Key causes he mentioned include deforestation, urban crowding and wet markets for wild game. Other scientists are insinuating that the “acceleration of pandemics” will happen due to climate change.

Meteorologist Michael Mann says climate change is a “threat multiplier” which means “it amplifies existing challenges and threats by increasing our vulnerability and reducing our adaptive capacity.” Climate change puts people at a wide range of risk for more pandemics. Evidence indicates a reason for coronavirus emergence is the potentially harmful interactions between humans and wildlife. Exploiting natural resources have been taking place around the world. Wild animals are losing their habitats. Consequently, they are bound to come close to human habitats and transmitting the germs of infectious diseases. For instance, avian flu originates from a bird, the Ebola virus emerges from a bat, and HIV comes from a monkey.

To avert pandemics as well as the acceleration of pandemics, the world, nations, governments and individuals require ‘aggressive actions’ that reduce climate change or protracts the changing process (mitigation) as well as minimises climate change impacts (adaptation). Bangladesh, as a highly vulnerable country to climate change, requires major initiatives to strengthen the implementation of climate change adaptation projects and programmes, maximise impacts, build resilience, and promote transformational policies and institutions. Four top-level priorities are briefly discussed here to defeat upcoming pandemics as well as reduce climate change impacts through adaptation.

Climate policy, project and programme implementation are predominantly partial and weak in this country. Translating key climate strategies such as the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) into climate policies and actions, and mainstreaming climate adaptation objectives into policies and budgets require adaptive (and transformational) policies and institutions. For instance, agricultural advisory services have to be climate-informed to scale up climate-smart farming at the local level. Similarly, the government’s initiatives to create mass awareness, share knowledge and develop skills are immediate to prepare the local NGOs, private organisations, civil societies, and voluntary organisations is a must to combat the current and imminent impacts of climate change. Climate compatible development that is increasing renewable energy, sustainable mobility and green competitiveness at the national, regional and local levels largely hinges on strengthened institutional set-up and conducive policy environments.

A significant increase in investment is crucial for climate-resilient and low-carbon infrastructure development. In the context of the pre-existing financing gap, the Bangladesh governments must improve climate finance governance. Leveraging resources and finance can be done in three ways: increasing domestic public resources, mobilising private capital, and catalysing public and private, domestic and international resources.

The ‘adaptation financing gap’ is a challenge. In this regard, governments can promote ‘blended finance’ for adaptation, despite most discussion of ‘blended finance’ has focused on its use for mitigation. Blended finance is a structuring approach that allows different types of capital —both private and public— to invest alongside each other while each achieves its own objectives, e.g., social impacts and financial. The Nepal hydropower project is a typical example of applying blended finance for adaptation. Moreover, governments can pay more emphasis on catalysing private capital and optimising the use of concessional finance.

Scaling up climate action in six high-impact areas, namely climate-smart land use, water, and food security; sustainable and resilient cities; green competitiveness; sustainable mobility; renewable energy and energy efficiency; and leaving no one behind, are critical as the World Bank suggests. Climate actions can be enhanced through direct investments, advisory services, and the shaping of new and innovative solutions.

Bangladesh has been facing daunting challenges of sea-level rise, flooding and drought. For instance, scientific projections show the coastal zone (19 districts) will encounter about 1-meter sea-level rise by the end of the 21st century. To feed the burgeoning people, this country has no alternative to adopt climate-smart agriculture, including climate-smart fish and livestock production. Urban areas like Dhaka and Chattogram city are highly flood-affected and polluted. Key actions are to protect wetlands, encourage sustainable plantations and tree planting, protect and optimise the management of natural forests, build resilient infrastructure, invest in sustainable mobility (Bus Rapid Transit) and others.

Climate adaptation and mitigation governance must align with the Paris Agreement. This vital climate instrument calls for governments to ensure financial flows are “consistent with a pathway toward low GHG emissions and climate-resilient development.” Anecdotal evidence indicates operational alignment with this agreement is not an easy task. Crucial actions include creating an enabling framework that is reviewing financial policies and regulations for mainstreaming and integrating climate change adaptation and resilience building. Other initiatives include aligning public resources for effective use of fiscal policy and budgets, harnessing public finance to shape broader investment, and using information instruments to increase transparency and established standards. The latter action talk about easily accessible consolidated “one-stop-shop” data on climate impacts, NDCs, climate finance, analytic tools, and methodologies that will be made available to stakeholders.

The nexus between Covid-19 emergence and climate change is scientifically unclear. However, there is pretty strong evidence that a combination of climate change, biodiversity loss, intensification of farming, and other human activities destabilises the ecology of bats, birds, monkeys, and other disease hosts. Anecdotal evidence shows that the severity and intensity of the changing climate might accelerate pandemics.

Climate change is a battle of this generation and we are losing so far, which invokes the looming crises like global pandemics. Recovering Covid-19, escaping imminent pandemics and tackling the climate crisis must be in tandem with conserving and restoring nature, and using sustainably.


The writer is an Associate Professor in the Dept. of Agricultural Extension and Information System, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, Dhaka.