Wed | Aug 12, 2020

Earth Today | UWI turns spotlight on COVID-19 and the environment

Published:Thursday | July 2, 2020 | 12:13 AM

CARIBBEAN STAKEHOLDERS, among them academics and representatives from the private sector, recently got together to bring into sharp focus the need to prioritise a look at the linkages between COVID-19 and the environment.

The occasion was a teleconference hosted by The University of the West Indies under the theme ‘COVID and the environment: For better or for worse?’ It was hosted virtually on World Environment Day, which was celebrated this year under the theme ‘Time for Nature’.

“Notwithstanding the temporary reprieve that the pandemic seemed to provide for some aspects of the environment, there does not seem to be any significant inclusion of environmental concerns or even mention of the environment in discussions related to reopening, recovery, and living in the new COVID era,” noted Professor Michael Taylor, dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at The University of the West Indies (UWI), who led on the teleconference.

“This would include a lack of discussion on how to maintain gains seen or how to handle environmental threats still present, while also trying to deal with COVID-19,” he added.


Among the speakers at the conference were:

• Therese Turner-Jones, IDB country representative for Jamaica,, who addressed the subject ‘COVID and Climate Change: Two Caribbean Challenges’;

• Eleanor Jones, head of Environmental Solutions Limited and a member of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, who presented on the topic ‘Building Back Better: Inserting environmental considerations as we re-open the Economy’; and

• Professor Leonard Nurse, lecturer at The UWI, Cave Hill campus, and coordinating lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Small Islands Chapter. He looked at ‘Cleaner Air, Clearer Waters: Are the environmental benefits of COVID real and/or sustainable?’

According to Taylor, the hope is that the teleconference, which attracted more than 1,000 viewers, would yield some gains, as Caribbean islands continue to navigate COVID-19 waters.

“The conference was an attempt to bring an awareness to, and focus on, issues at the intersection between COVID-19 and the environment,” he said.

Global actors have also called attention to the need to take on environmental considerations, towards enhanced resilience in the future, for developed and, in particular, developing countries.

Counted among those actors is United Nations Secretary General António Guterres.

“The impact of the coronavirus is both immediate and dreadful. But there is another deep emergency: the planet’s unfolding environmental crisis. Biodiversity is in steep decline. Climate disruption is approaching a point of no return,” he said, delivering his Earth Day message on April 22.

“We must act decisively to protect our planet from both the coronavirus and the existential threat of climate disruption. The current crisis is an unprecedented wake-up call. We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future,” Guterres added.

He went further to propose a range of what he labelled “climate-related actions to shape the recovery and the work ahead”.

They include:

• Delivering new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition;

• Ensuring that tax dollars used to rescue businesses are tied to achieving green jobs and sustainable growth; and

• The incorporation of climate risk and opportunities into the financial system, as well as all aspects of public policymaking and infrastructure.

The UN boss said further: “We need to work together as an international community.”