Climate change has been linked with more severe and frequent storms that take away lives and damage properties. Its impacts include droughts and seasonal changes that affect harvests and food security. This global phenomenon has been warming the seas, thus bleaching corals and affecting fish catch. It also contributes to the rise of sea levels, which threaten to flood coastal communities, and even cities in the future.
While not highlighted as much, climate action also includes taking care of nature and the remaining biological diversity in the planet. This natural solution contributes to the sequestration of the burgeoning carbon in the atmosphere, helping mitigate the rising temperature and greenhouse gas emissions, and buffering vulnerable countries and communities from the impacts of the changing climate.
The continuing exploitation of our biological resources and degradation of our natural ecosystems have exposed us to the full brunt of disasters that are consequences of the climate crisis, which include the spread of infectious diseases. According to the World Health Organization, climate change affects water-borne diseases transmitted through insects and cold-blooded animals, and lengthens the transmission season of vector-borne infectious diseases. Malaria, which is strongly influenced by the climate, kills over 400,000 people every year.
Destroying key ecosystems and the unabated extraction of wildlife resources from their natural habitats have increased the probabilities of livestock and humans coming into contact with pathogens. SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19, has been linked with human exposure to wildlife, and climate inaction has aggravated the situation. Changes in rainfall and temperature, for example, can affect food sources of wild animals, which are common hosts to viruses. Changes in the movement and behaviour of animals looking for food may bring wild animals and humans into closer contact.
Indeed, addressing climate change will help safeguard public health, and conserving biodiversity is one of the measures to achieve this. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of decisive public health actions in the short and long term, and climate action is crucial today and in the years to come.
This 22 April, the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) joins the international community in commemorating Earth Day, with climate action as its theme. The far-reaching issue of climate change, the impact of which will be felt by future generations, is important, now more than ever, as we mark the 50th Earth Day.
The ASEAN region is highly vulnerable to climate change because of its archipelagos, long coastlines, and concentrated populations and economic activities in low-lying areas. It is no stranger to disasters like storms, flooding, landslides, and wildfire. Moreover, climate change-related diseases like dengue and malaria are constant threats.
Just as viruses recognise no borders, making infectious diseases a global concern that require nations to cooperate, so does climate change require cooperation. While one nation’s aggressive climate policies and programmes can be undermined by nations that do not have the same level of commitment, the agreements and coordinated actions by nations working together can multiply the results of climate action.
The ACB welcomes the ongoing initiatives of the ASEAN region in addressing climate change. All 10 ASEAN Member States (AMS) are parties to the 2015 Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The AMS are committed to keeping the global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. All the AMS have submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions and targets under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Additionally, AMS leaders have been regularly issuing joint statements on climate change at the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP) since 2007. The ASEAN joint statements highlight the region’s common views and concerns towards a global solution to climate challenges, and a climate-resilient ASEAN through national and regional actions. In COP 25, the AMS affirmed their commitments, including the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and fostering conservation, sustainable forest management, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (REDD+). The AMS are in varying stages of implementing REDD+, with some planning and designing roadmaps, and a number engaging local communities in reforestation and sustainable forest management.
Moreover, outside of REDD+, the AMS are actively conserving and planting mangroves, which are among the best carbon sinks. Mangroves are also nature-based solutions that serve as buffers against storms and flooding.
Restoring and conserving ecosystems like forests also contributes to carbon sequestration. The ASEAN region has so far placed 13 per cent of its terrestrial areas under protection, and is on track to meet the global Aichi Biodiversity target on increasing coverage of terrestrial and marine areas under protection. ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHPs), a regional network of protected areas that conserve ASEAN’s rich, unique, and endangered biodiversity, likewise contributes to mitigating climate change.
To scale up their initiatives, the AMS work with other nations and partners in several climate change-related programmes. For example, the AMS collaborated with the ACB and other partners like the EU, KfW, and other organisations in the conduct of the Sixth ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHP) Conference. The Conference enhanced capacities of AHP managers and facilitated sharing of best practices in AHP management, among them on climate change mitigation and adaptation, with emphasis on nature-based solutions. The AMS and India, together with the ACB, also worked together to share experiences and opportunities in integrating urban biodiversity conservation in cities. Studies show that biodiversity in cities helps reduce heat, a common issue with climate change, and brings back native species in their natural habitats.
AMS leaders and experts have come together in other climate-related events to discuss actions and solutions and enhance capacities in climate response, like the ASEAN Climate Change Partnership Conference, and the ASEAN Strategic Policy Dialogue on Disaster Management in 2019.
These are but some of ASEAN’s climate initiatives. We need all these and more to address our climate concerns, and consequently, mitigate the spread of climate-related infectious diseases. As we work as a cohesive and a responsive ASEAN to address the COVID-19 pandemic, this Earth Day and beyond, let us continue to mitigate and adapt to climate change and its impacts in solidarity, for our health and our future.
Stay updated with news and information from the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity by visiting their website at https://aseanbiodiversity.org.