Today, we are facing two crises. One, the coronavirus pandemic; the other, a slowly building climate catastrophe. Both COVID-19 and climate change are real but different emergencies. We are living a health and economic crisis. Soon, we will be living an environmental crisis.

Climate change is real. Those who deny it have their own agenda. Most of them are people who have a personal interest in the fossil fuel industry; oil and gas firms spend millions on climate denial lobbying. Others deny it for economic, humanitarian or political reasons.

However, the vast majority of actively publishing climate scientists – 97 per cent – agree that humans are causing global warming and climate change. We are being warned.

Public health experts have warned us for years that a pandemic was inevitable. In 2012, The Rand Corporation concluded that a pandemic will be capable of destroying ‘Ameri­ca’s way of life’. In 2015, Ezra Klein of Vox wrote that a pandemic is “the most predictable catastrophe in the history of the human race”.

We were warned again in 2017 with an exercise modelled by the Trump administration, and again in 2018 when Lucia Borio, then the Director for Medical and Biodefense at the US National Security Council, told a symposium that “the threat of a pandemic flu is our number-one health security concern”.

We were warned. Yet, it seemed that nobody took the experts seriously enough to put in place the necessary infrastructures, capacity, expertise and resources required to maintain a coordinated response when the outbreak takes place.

Could this offer lessons to turn around the stark lack of global action towards climate crisis?

The climate emergency has a different timeframe but it is just as urgent. The UK government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, John Beddington, published a study entitled ‘The Perfect Storm’, where he predicts a worrying scenario: “If we don’t start tackling climate change problems seriously, by 2030 there will be 50 million people displaced by water scarcity, food shortages, natural disasters and war and conflict by failed states.” By 2050, these numbers will range from 150 million to 300 million.

Climate change is here right now, we can already see it and feel it. We need to implement measures that will slow down the effects of climate change, as well as a preparatory action plan to mitigate its devastating impacts. As we try to resuscitate the economic situation after this pandemic, we need a ‘green restart’ to the economy, with investments in sustainable households, sustainable mobi­lity, improved agricultural prac­tices and clean energy pro­jects to replace oil and gas.

While thousands of people are dying and hundreds of thousands more are ill, the planet breathes easier

There needs to be great support and incentives towards business and entities promo­ting environmental protection, equality and health. Banks should start financing only green projects and stimulate growth and jobs in the green sector. Our security is defined by the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic.

All the three pillars must be perfectly in balance in order to live the best quality of life possible without stealing away the planet’s resources from future generations.

It was known that 2020 was going to be a milestone year for the climate change crisis, requiring a radical reversal of the current trajectory in global greenhouse gas emissions.

But what we didn’t know was that we would face a global health crisis that will, in an unexpected and ‘curious’ way, help us towards this objective.

While thousands of people are dying and hundreds of thousands more are ill, the planet breathes easier. Pollutions in New York have reduced by nearly 50 per cent; emissions in China fell by 25 per cent and coal use fell by 40 per cent; satellite images show nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions fading away over northern Italy, with similar scenarios over Spain and the UK; the Himalayas in Nepal can be seen from the Indian state of Punjab for the first time in 30 years due to the good air quality; the Ozone layer has accelerated its regeneration; and many wild animals are re-claiming their place in the world, while humans are locked up in their houses.

The COVID-19 situation is temporary and the positive environmental benefits that the planet is experiencing will not last beyond this pandemic.

Everybody is wondering whether life can go back to normal after coronavirus and I sincerely hope that we will not, but that we can create a new, better ‘normal’.

We recently marked the 50th anniversary of International Earth Day, which was celebrated in Malta with a week-long schedule of free online activities organised by ‘Earth Week Malta’; a collaboration of 20 local environmental organisations including Friends of the Earth, Birdlife, Skop, Greenhouse and several others.

International Earth Day is an occasion for all of us to take the time to seriously reflect on how our daily behaviour impacts the environment and the climate and find a way to change our course of action, before it is too late.

Zen D’Amato Gautam, Founder, Earth Week Malta 

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us