Save the Children warns of rising temperatures as the country finds its feet after COVID19
Analysis shows a dramatic decline in public online conversations about the climate in Asia
Colombo, July 28, 2020. Record-breaking temperatures and COVID-19 are both warnings that humanity must reset its relationship with nature and address the climate crisis, or face potentially deadlier pandemics and disasters. As we mark World Nature Conservation Day on July 28, we reawaken public concern for the climate in Sri Lanka, the Asia-Pacific region and the rest of the world. Largely buried by the COVID19 pandemic, global warming remains the number one threat to the region’s societies and their children.
The year 2020 is on course to be one of the top two warmest years in 141 years of temperature records. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States reports that the first half of 2020 was the second warmest January-June period on record. This was partly driven by record heat in Siberia in northern Asia, where average temperatures in June were more than 5°C above normal.
“The world has a fever. We need to apply the cure fast,” said Save the Children’s Asia Regional Director, Hassan Noor. “Otherwise, today’s children will inherit a planet on fire: a world in which pandemics are a constant threat and their lives are blighted by a climate crisis they did not create.”
Extreme weather disasters, like the prolonged drought experienced in Sri Lanka over the past few years, are intensifying as a result of global warming. Sea level rise alone means that by 2050, many of Asia-Pacific’s coastal megacities and small island nations could suffer once-in-a-century extreme weather events every year, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“Asia-Pacific is already the world’s most disaster-prone region. Unless we act fast, the climate crisis will make catastrophe a way of life for hundreds of millions of people in the region,” said Professor Benjamin Horton, Director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore and a member of the IPCC.
Save the Children’s analysis of social media finds the number of public conversations about climate, which steadily rose during 2019, declined sharply in 2020 when COVID-19 spread across Asia-Pacific and beyond, dominating media coverage and causing many climate-related conferences and demonstrations – such as the school strikes that thousands of children in the region and elsewhere staged in 2019 – to be cancelled.
By July 2020, public online discussions about climate in Asia-Pacific had halved compared to the same time last year (based on an analysis of 17 countries). Globally, public online discussions about climate between April and June this year plummeted by a staggering 70 percent compared to the same period last year.
Governments should not however, assume climate crisis was no longer a public concern. We at Save the Children vow to support calls by young people to reverse decades of damage to the environment by officially launching the Asia Pacific Children and Youth’s campaign on climate action – Red Alert. Red Alert will ensure that the children and youth of the Asia-Pacific region, including Sri Lanka, are able to effectively communicate their climate and environment crisis concerns and demands to public audiences and policymakers both in the region and globally. This will in turn make sure that children’s and youths’ voices are integrated into government planning and implementation relating to disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) by next year.
“Young climate activists have warned us that humanity was abusing nature beyond its limits. Now we’re paying the price for ignoring their warnings. But we want to say – ‘We hear you’. That’s why Save the Children is supporting a new campaign by young people in Sri Lanka and across Asia-Pacific to make sure their concerns are heard loud and clear,” added Hassan Noor.
“Climate change is a huge issue in Sri Lanka,” said 17-year-old Harini*. “My health is affected. I have some issues with my lungs and I get rashes from the heat. I don’t think adults are working hard enough for this problem because most of them don’t care, they put plastic and waste and garbage all over the city,” she said.
Given the chance, children and youth can help provide simple yet effective solutions to addressing the climate crisis. “In my school, there is a box given to every classroom,” continued Harini*. “We use this to recycle our pens. When a pen finishes, we ask students to put it inside the box rather than throwing it away. We collect over 1,000 pens per week and give it back to the company to refill and give it to us again. It has a huge impact.”
Studies show that pandemics caused by viruses of animal origin are becoming more frequent, largely because of human activities, such as deforestation and pollution, which disrupt wildlife habitats and force animals and insects into contact with people. Climate change is increasing such disruptions.
“But COVID-19 recovery plans provide a huge opportunity to reduce the risks of both pandemics and climate disasters,” added Hassan Noor. “While supporting jobs and growth, COVID-19 recovery plans should accelerate the shift to less polluting low-carbon economies. Industries receiving public funds make strong, enforceable pledges to green their operations. More investment is also needed to protect vulnerable communities from future crises.”
Sri Lanka is particularly vulnerable to climate change, coming close to topping the list of the world’s most affected countries in 2017 according to the Global Climate Risk Index issued by German Watch. Placed second at risk in the world in 2017, the country’s recurring flood and drought cycles have become so commonplace that they rarely make the news anymore. Drought has affected over 1.8 million people in the country, while another 200,000 to one million experienced the results of other natural phenomena.
The effects of extreme weather patterns have had a devastating impact on countless Sri Lankans including the country’s children. Flood, drought, landslides, heavy winds, lightning and cyclones have adversely affected people’s health and livelihoods. Added to this, Sri Lanka has always been vulnerable to cyclones due to its location at the convergence of the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. The island has been hit by at least six storms since 2016 with warnings issued as recently as May this year for tropical storm Amphan.
Julian Chellappah, National Director of Save the Children in Sri Lanka said, “During recent years, we have witnessed an increased intensity in extreme weather patterns, and exposure of Sri Lanka’s cities to frequent climate risk events. Sri Lanka identified floods, drought and epidemics as top risks, which have adversely affected the health, education, protection and livelihoods of children and their families. Save the Children has an extensive footprint, long experience working in the humanitarian context in Sri Lanka with children and their communities, our unique cluster commitments, and established relationships with local governments and other key partners. We believe this be the right time for shifting our focus more on wide-ranging climate change strategies, actions are consistently and systematically built on an awareness of the potential effects of climate change, and that, wherever appropriate, climate change adaptation is incorporated into project design in a manner consistent with national policies and that supports governments in realizing their climate change objectives. This is underpinned by a commitment to genuine and systematic child and youth participation.”
For more details on the Red Alert campaign in Sri Lanka or to join the effort, find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtags #RedAlertonClimate #GreenRecovery and #Youth4climateSL
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