Climate News

Voices from the Climate Community on COVID-19


Madrid’s IFEMA convention center, the venue for COP25, has been converted into a field hospital for coronavirus patients. Photo: Diario de Madrid

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended all of our lives in unprecedented ways around the world. We talked to many of our colleagues in the climate community about the actions their governments are taking, the parallels between their government’s handling of COVID-19 and the climate crisis, and the effect the pandemic has had on their personal lives.

Dharini Parthasarathy, Climate Action Network International, India

I’m in India and the government is handling the COVID-19 crisis terribly. The Prime Minister announced a lockdown with four hours notice, which caused a major upheaval in the lives of poor and migrant daily wage workers who constitute the majority of the Indian population. They received no social or economic relief to deal with the immediate closure of industries, construction work, shops and public spaces. Many walked hundreds of kilometers to reach their villages where the situation is no better and the possibility of spreading the disease to rural areas has actually vastly increased. The government is yet to lay out a concrete plan and instead has resorted to weekend gimmicks like asking people to light lamps in their balconies and clap.

Work on climate change has been affected in that 2020 was considered an iconic year to push for ambition and finance. We have had to really reorient our strategy, taking into account the new reality of this pandemic, which has different implications and developments in different regions. It has also forced open a conversation on systemic factors that contribute to such crises and the need for transformational actions in our responses rather than quick fixes. There are many parallels and lessons to learn from this crisis that apply to climate advocacy.

The Indian government has shown it lacks the expertise, vision and empathy needed to handle this crisis and, unfortunately, it might be the same for climate change.”

Kahu Kutia, Te Ara Whatu, New Zealand
Photo: Nicole Hunt

“A key part of our activism is around holding our colonial government to account on their relationships with our indigenous people. I do commend our government and the Prime Minister on their quick work to close our country and implement lockdown measures. They have increased capacity for testing for COVID-19, and also taken measures to ensure we are meeting our responsibility as a gateway to our Pacific neighbors. 

However, we must continue to ensure they provide structural support with their best intentions. In our country, the Māori face massive inequities in the health sector, and like indigenous people across the world, we remember the ways that pandemics have decimated our populations in the past. I must also commend the leadership of our more isolated indigenous communities who have taken it upon themselves to restrict movement in and out of their regions. Recognizing the huge health inequities, these steps are lifesaving and ironically the government has acknowledged this work while still considering it illegal to set up indigenous checkpoints.

In the past month we have seen changes in our country that might have been thought impossible before. This is a moment in which it is clear that we can make the radical changes needed to prioritize a just and equitable future. The only question is political will. This is a moment to be more radical than ever in our demands. We must prioritize the needs of frontline communities, indigenous leadership, and just transition as we move forward in our climate plans.”

Alejandro Gonzalez, Researcher at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain

“I live in a town in the community of Madrid, the most affected area in the country. Spain was one of the countries that reacted slightly late, when closing the country and destroying the economic system became a chasm. The central government is doing some things well, such as confinement control, but federal administrators that work in health are not. The cuts in hospitals and research are being noticed, as well as the lack of coordination among administrators.

The project we are currently working on, which includes connectivity of protected areas against climate change to facilitate the migration of species, is completely frozen because we cannot do field work. If this continues, we will not be able to go out in the spring and we will lose an entire year of work. 

It is worth remembering that the place in Madrid where the improvised COP25 was held—the IFEMA venue—is now a gigantic hospital.”

Bruno Toledo, Ph.D. Candidate in International Relations, Brazil

“The epidemic has changed everything about my work. All the planning I had for 2020 has become impractical in the context of this crisis. Trips, lectures, interviews, events in general – everything was simply postponed or canceled.

Another point is that the climate issue has completely lost the small place it had in the Brazilian press, which hinders us in promoting studies or agendas with journalists. Everything now depends on COVID-19 and the impacts it will cause in the coming months.

The epidemic has only made it clearer that the Bolsonaro administration in Brazil is a global threat to humanity’s survival in the context of the climate crisis. Not even the incidence of devastating impacts will make this administration change its course away from denialism and take this crisis seriously.”

María Luz Falivene, Sustainability without Borders, Argentina

“Since the first case of coronavirus in our country was confirmed on March 3, our president, Alberto Fernandez, has taken a very active position in handling the crisis. Initially recognizing that we were facing an ‘invisible enemy,’ the government began to provide information and urge that circulation be reduced to the minimum possible.

Fernandez decided to form a council of health specialists who advised him to make decisions, such as suspension of classes, closure of borders, repatriation of Argentines, various social measures, freezing of prices and rents, strengthening the healthcare system and its care, and a Decree of Urgent Need, which established social, preventive and compulsory isolation. In this way, circulation was limited throughout the country and only through this decree were a set of activities enabled to do so. I am proud to live in a country that prioritizes the health of its inhabitants, who understand that responsible health management involves taking care of our socio-economic and political life as well.”

Sara Cognuck, Costa Rica’s Youth and Climate Change Network

“I really believe that many of the measures taken before COVID-19 are part of the measures that we must take in the face of the climate crisis. Many of these measures were already being implemented and I believe that COVID-19 forced us to take the processes to a virtual environment. 

I think that once the situation stabilizes with COVID-19, we will have a high number of lessons learned and decisions that can be included as part of managing the climate crisis.”

Patrick Toussaint, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, Germany

“Life with two little kids at home is challenging when you are used to working full-time. Like many other employers, mine recommended taking left-over leave from last year and allowed me to take extra-leave to take care of the kids. I really appreciate it and think this is a very privileged position. I would say we are lucky to be under contract as I have close friends who freelance and are beginning to struggle. Then again, we are all privileged in the sense that Germany has a fantastic welfare system and measures are being adopted to help out those who are self-employed or unemployed. In the end that won’t save everyone, but I have great respect for the government taking these measures.

I feel Germany has always taken a somewhat pragmatic approach. I am curious, though, what effect the global response to COVID-19 has on the reach of social movements, such as Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion, that have been getting so much support lately. I have read a few studies that compare how we handle the corona outbreak with how we handle the climate crisis, globally. There are of course similarities but also significant differences. My key takeaway from this pandemic would be how quickly people have come to accept to living under such incisive measures restricting their social life and how economic systems are beginning to adapt (hopefully) and transform (eventually) to these new realities. I think if we can manage to see the climate crisis for what it really is and how urgent it is, we have a lot to learn from this experience.”

Anaid Velasco, Mexican Center for Environmental Law, Mexico

“In general, it has been believed that the Mexican government had not taken control in a timely or serious manner. In recent days, the WHO congratulated Mexico for the measures it has taken in the face of the crisis. It is generally perceived that the isolation, home office and measures corresponding to Phase 2 (which is the one that now prevails in the country according to sanitary authorities) have entered late. It was not until March 30 that a health emergency and the corresponding measures to attend to them were declared.

Given the nature of my work, I am fortunate to be able to carry out my work from home, attending meetings virtually. On a personal level, it has been a challenge to stay isolated because being used to going out and seeing friends and family, isolation represents a change of dynamics.”

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