In a recent expose published by the New York Times it was tallied that the Trump administration is dismantling and/or rolling back 100 environmental rules, with 33 more in progress. Whilst this may not come as a shock for many of us, what is shocking is that in the wake of coronavirus many countries are looking to shift their environmental policies while prioritising the economy.
The urgent need to respond to the pandemic has meant a number of delays and changes to previously proposed laws, meetings, policies and negotiations. Some of these include the 2020 ocean conference and COP26, where countries were meant to find solutions to preventing a 2° C increase in global temperature. The delay in both of these not only prevent countries from being compelled to make climate strong economic recovery plans, but allow them to shift away from an environmental focus in upcoming policies.
In the Amazon, deforestation has risen sharply - a huge problem given that the Amazon absorbs two billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere a year. Covid-19 has meant environmental enforcers haven't been able to go out and protect the Amazon (due to fear of infection) but Brazil is reportedly deploying troops to fight illegal deforestation.
In countries like South Africa, financial constraints have meant that the country has had to lower their air pollution standards. The country's department for environment, forestry and fisheries said that two of the country's biggest air polluters and energy companies (Eskom and Sasol) will not have the finances necessary to comply with regulations (new regulations would require them to refit and refurbish their infrastructure and these companies are saying they can not afford to do this). This means that the air pollution standards have been made twice as weak as before, with the aim to reduce pollution dropping from 1000mg/Nm3 to 500mg/Nm3 (mg/Nm3 indicates the amount of pollution/substance per cubic metre of air). This is not only bad news for the environment, but research presented by the Life After Coal Campaign estimated that 3 300 premature deaths would be caused by doubling the air pollution standard just for Eskom's coal-fired power stations.
Worldwide, the need for emergency responses, healthcare costs and declines in tax revenue means countries are reassessing budgets, and many are limiting the funds going into renewable energy and green projects (even though investing in a green recovery can create millions of jobs each year). Even projects which had funding are at risk of having it taken away, such as The Obama administration's $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition. The program's $1 billion budget aimed to put a number of measures in place which would make cities more resistant to climate change. These funds however need to be spent by 2022 in order to take place and therefore may not go through if the project isn't given more time.
Whilst these policies will have a huge affect on our global fight against climate change, we don't want this news to make you feel despondent. There is still time to make a change and Covid-19 has highlighted the ability for incredible change in many countries.
And some countries and regions are moving in the right direction. The European Commission and South Korea are both working on green recovery programs which aim for carbon neutrality by 2050, the EU's even aiming to raise funds by backing existing climate projects.
Don't forget that as citizens we have the power to take plenty of actionable steps to ensure our voices are heard.
Worried about policies and setbacks? Here are some things you can do to get involved:
- Write to your elected representative about a just, green recovery:
We want to build a better world, one that's powered by renewables, one that puts climate justice (and everything that comes with it) first. But for this change to happen, we need to make our voices heard by those in power.
One of the best ways you can do this is by writing a letter to your local politician - at a local, state, and national level. Writing to politicians who represent your area is powerful. They were elected by you, to represent the views of your electorate. What you care about is valuable to them because it determines whether or not you vote for them. When politicians receive lots of letters from their constituents about certain issues, they're compelled to act if they want to keep their position.
That's why it's so important that you bring your voice to the table (and encourage others to do the same!). Here's how to write a letter to your elected representative.
- If you are interested in preventing illegal logging in the Amazon:
Donate to the Rainforest Foundation who work closely with Indigenous communities to secure their land rights and train local communities to use technology that will help them. You can also follow the work of Amazon Frontlines , Waorani Resistencia Pastaza and Mujeres Amazónicas Defensoras de la Selva.
- If you are interested in combating South Africas lowered air pollution standards:
Written by Frances Housdon
Fran is a young South African journalism graduate passionate about the outdoors, and getting other people to enjoy them with her. She loves paddling down long rivers, exploring big mountains and consuming bulk quantities of peanut butter.