Welcome to the Echo — A roundup of local, regional and international climate and environmental news. This week we’re focusing on food security and equity during COVID-19. We also look at the fossil fuels industry’s volatile state, the weakening of environmental legislation, and the relationship between coronavirus and pollution.
Eswatini has twelve confirmed COVID-19 cases, though we’re still without local testing capacity fully up and running, and are perhaps on the brink of a lockdown extension ourselves if we continue to take South Africa’s lead.
- The fossil fuel industry is facing the “gravest challenge in its 100-year history.” The combination of plummeting demand (due to COVID-19) and a price war among oil-producing nations means the industry is in upheaval. There is uncertainty whether this will (ever) recover or if we will look back on 2019 as the year fossil fuel use “peaked”. Given renewables’ increasing affordability, it’s likely oil will no longer be financially viable. Nevertheless, a return to the status quo is possible. A collective push for renewable and affordable energy solutions is vital.
- While we were focused on other things, South Africa’s government decided to drastically relax pollution limits last week. This undoubtedly affects Eswatini. The world’s second-largest sulphur dioxide hotspot is just over two hours away from Eswatini’s border — and it can now legally pollute even more. In the US, a similar setback has transpired with industry being given an “open license to pollute”. Now, more than ever, we need to make sure governments do not undo decades of hard fought environmental legislation.
- The rollback of climate legislation is especially worrying given that even slightly higher air pollution is linked to significantly higher COVID-19 mortality rates. This interactive article compares cities like Mbabane and Manzini to the world’s most polluted.
- Though pollution and environmental degradation have reduced significantly in the last month, the UNEP head cautions against positives in this regard, calling instead for a profound, systemic shift to sustainable economies that work for people and the planet.
- COP26 will only meet next year. This annual convergence of governments to shape international responses to climate issues has happened since 1995. Rescheduling was perhaps inevitable, but a post-COVID meeting on climate will be a vital framework for guiding commitments and investment in sustainable (and equitable) societies as governments rebuild.
Food Security, Equity and COVID-19
- In Eswatini, supermarkets remain relatively well-stocked, and some of our informal traders are still operating — but for how long? A stricter lockdown, improper planning, disrupted supply chains and panic buying mean that Eswatini (and most of the planet) may soon experience severe food crises. We need to regroup and plan accordingly to prevent shortages and protect society’s most vulnerable.
- Export restrictions will be especially harmful to small, food-insecure countries like Eswatini that are net-importers (i.e. relying heavily on other countries for food). This Al Jazeera article advises that nations keep certain trade flowing freely to avoid a devastating food crisis.
- “No Food, No Lockdown.” South Africa has adjusted lockdown measures to ensure the informal trade network (where most South Africans get their food) is not catastrophically wiped out – thanks to advocacy from civil society as outlined in this important, and admittedly bleak, article. On Thursday, in addition to extending South Africa’s lockdown, Ramaphosa announced that R1.2 billion will provide relief to small farmers to protect food supplies. The social legitimacy of any lockdown falls flat if plans aren’t made to ensure that everyone has access to food.
- Analysts predict that food supply disruptions in developing countries will be widespread but uneven — with informal sectors, small businesses and dense urban and marginalized communities hardest hit. However, compelling solutions to an impending food crisis exist and require immediate collective action.
- Visit the International Food Policy Research Institute for enlightening posts analyzing COVID-19’s impact on global food security, poverty, and development.
- COVID-19 will continue highlighting vast socio-economic inequalities — not just in food supply. In the US, African Americans are being disproportionately affected by coronavirus. Understanding social and environmental justice is key to understanding COVID-19’s impact.
Campaigns and Online Events
- On Tuesday, 14 April at 12:00PM Daily Maverick SA will host a free live webinar about the climate crisis in the time of COVID-19.
- Those most at risk from coronavirus are in conflict-ridden areas with collapsed healthcare systems. This Avaaz campaign calls for a global ceasefire.
- 350.org calls for a just recovery after coronavirus, focusing on helping people, not corporations and building resilience and solidarity. Sign here to support it.
We need to collectively consider what we want our new normal to be post-COVID. Creating more sustainable realities will take work, but first, creativity. We leave you with these words from an important article by Arundhati Roy:
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
Send feedback or ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know if you’re interested in contributing to articles (we are particularly looking for Eswatini-focused news and information). Stay safe, and healthy in these turbulent times – and please continue to follow the WHO guidelines for correct personal and public health measures.
— All the best,
Maru & Dane