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COVID’s Aftershocks: When will leaders lead on climate and COVID?


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12 years of waiting: Rich countries failed to mobilise the $100 billion in climate finance that they promised to developing nations (ahem) 12 years ago. Meanwhile, 34 of the world’s poorest countries spend five times more on debt payments than they do on curbing the effects of climate change ($29.4 billion to $5.4 billion). Jubilee Debt Campaign, which produced the analysis, was at COP to sound the alarm on the issue — but Glasgow police considered their inflatable Loch Ness debt monster more of a threat than the debt crisis.

COP on: As leaders gathered in Glasgow to discuss how to keep the world on track for a 1.5 degree scenario, African activists have called out the injustice of efforts to curb investments in fossil fuels in Africa. Africa accounts for 2-3% of global emissions and is beset by energy poverty, while rich countries continue to invest in gas and coal. AU President Felix Tshisekedi said the continent has a plan for responding to the climate crisis, but is tired of waiting for the support needed to make it happen. Climate change could wipe out 15% of Africa’s gross domestic product by 2030 and push an additional 100 million people into extreme poverty by the end of the decade. Additionally, 2 million deaths a year, mostly in poorer countries, can be traced back to rich countries’ pollution. Read more on how climate change is impacting in Africa from ONE’s Rasna Warah.

Hang on: In a positive turn, the US, UK, and EU agreed to invest $8.5 billion to help South Africa transition from coal. Investing in the energy transition could help resolve Africa’s jobs crisis, according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa. Former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney hailed a “watershed moment” as private investors committed $130 trillion (yes trillion) to hit net zero.

We have a plan: Leading African voices have called for collective action to support a financial and trade package to transform climate inequality into inclusiveness. Scaling up public and private finance, reducing Africa’s cost of commercial borrowing, increasing support for adaptation, and aligning trade policy with climate objectives will position Africa to both respond to the crisis and be a future climate leader.

Trial run, fail: COVID-19 was a trial run for a crisis and taught us a lot about prospects for climate diplomacy — so says Stefan Lehne from Carnegie Europe. Rather than growing to meet the challenge of the pandemic, foreign policy shrank. ONE’s David McNair made a similar link back in July, noting that trust shattered by the pandemic response will make climate cooperation all the more difficult. Climate change will also make future pandemics more likely. Award winning Australian virologist Eddie Holmes highlighted how changing migration patterns of animals will make it easier for viruses to spread. The Lancet medical journal dubbed climate is “code red” for a healthy future.

The real obscenity: The climate crisis has brought 1 million people to the brink of famine in Madagascar. Some are describing it as the first climate famine. But climate, COVID, and conflict have been triggering food insecurity, poverty, and displacement elsewhereparticularly in the Horn of Africa.

No time to Draghi: Last weekend, Mario Draghi hosted G20 Leaders in Rome for their first in-person meeting since the pandemic hit. They signed off on a global tax deal, which ONE Board member Larry Summers described as a victory for “Detroit over Davos.” The G20 also made progress on recycling the $650 billion IMF Special Drawing Rights that were allocated in August from rich to poorer countries. G20 leaders pledged to share $100 billion, and Canada, Italy, and Spain joined France and the UK is recycling 20% of their share. But while some said the summit was a sign that multilateralism is back, we at ONE were less impressed: leaders did not take enough concrete action to meet the target to vaccinate 70% of the world’s population by September 2022.

Flood warning: It’s over 10 times more expensive to administer a COVID-19 vaccine in South Sudan compared to neighboring countries. Limited infrastructure and increasingly erratic rainy seasons make transport hard. Much of the country is inaccessible by road, and bad weather and flooded landing strips are hampering air transport. Just 0.4% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Threat multiplier: The Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency on Tuesday after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) captured the towns of Dessie and Kombolcha — 250 miles from the capital Addis Ababa. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed urged citizens to take up arms to defend themselves, marking the latest chapter in the dangerous destabilisation of Africa’s second most populous country. Of the 224 total health centers in the Tigray region in Ethiopia, only 40 are functional. Meanwhile, protests continue in Sudan a week after a military coup. Climate change is a “threat multiplier” to armed conflict, particularly in Africa.

Moving the needles: UNICEF estimates a 2.2 billion shortage of auto-disable syringes by next year, which are disproportionately used in low- and middle-income countries. Vaccine donations, while well below the threshold needed to reach 70% vaccinations, are starting to surpass syringe availability in Africa. This has immediate consequences for COVID-19 vaccination efforts, but also threatens countries’ abilities to administer childhood immunizations. Meanwhile, the first oral COVID-19 vaccine tablet (read: no syringe necessary) is being trialed in South Africa. If effective, this could sidestep delivery hurdles like ultra-cold chain requirements. Also important given Africa has a chronic shortage of needles.

Devastating milestoneThe official COVID-19 death toll surpassed 5 million this week. But the true death toll could be as high as 19.6 million. In the past three months, rich countries mobilized more booster shots than poor countries have administered all year. This “global shame” has devastating consequences: In parts of Africa, where just 6% of the population is fully vaccinated, as many as 1 in 15 COVID-19 cases result in death. In countries that are 70% fully vaccinated, that drops to about 1 in 250. As UN Secretary-General Guterres pleaded, “The best way to honor those five million people lost… is to make vaccine equity a reality.”

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