World Environment Day: The fable of the boiling frog

Opinion by Jean Marc Sika, June 4, 2020

On June 5, 2020, the world celebrates World Environment Day. It is an acclaimed United Nations Day to raise awareness and encourage action to protect our environment.

This year, the day is being recognised as the world copes with the COVID-19 pandemic especially at a dire time when we have been called to reflect on the actions of mankind towards nature as the curtains close on the UN Decade on biodiversity.

COVID-19 is just a tip of the iceberg

The brutality of the COVID-19 after-shocks confirm that there is something fundamentally wrong in the liberal story that has been put across for generations and whose ideals through conservatism have been ruling the world in the last 30 years. Only three months of established lockdown measures have been sufficient to put the world’s economy on its knees and completely destabilise an established order most of us thought was immune from collapsing. This almost apocalyptic scenario has undoubtedly reminded some of us of the concept of ”collapsology” which appeared for the first time in the 70s report: The Limits to Growth  whose ideals and principles seems to have fallen into oblivion even after garnering massive popularity in 2015 through the novel How everything can collapse: A manual for our times.

The aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic is likely to be followed by deadlier and destructive disease outbreaks. This is because our society is in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of the earth’s natural life-support systems. The health of people is intimately connected to the health of wildlife, livestock and the environment. It shows the intricacy and interconnectivity of health and how we are dependent on it for existence.

There is a scientific consensus that human activities are contributing to climate change at a frightening pace and that we are not far from triggering an irreversible disaster. Indications reveal that we have to urgently reduce the emission of green-house-gases in the next 20 years to prevent the global temperature from increasing by 2 degrees Celsius.

We are rapidly approaching a tipping point beyond which will definitely wipe out the foundations of human civilisation if the status quo is continued

Many policies and little action

Global warming makes a mockery of national boundaries and no nation, no matter how powerful and resourceful can address climate change in isolation. Addressing global warming therefore goes beyond technical solutions that have been applied here and there such as the Paris Declaration and Countries’ climate change action plans known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Beyond the NGO world, government agencies such as the Ministries of Environment and specialised institutions on climate change, there is generally an enormous deficit of knowledge about the correlation between the environment, biodiversity and climate change in the public domain. A smallholder farmer for instance is fully aware that rainfall patterns are becoming unpredictable with long term devastating effects from pests such as desert locusts. It is however difficult for these marginalised groups to understand how plagues and the impact of human activities on the ecology as -evidenced during the COVID-19 pandemic- have an effect on our environment. This has evidently called for mass consciousness with intensified linkages with citizens and well-conceived policies at the macro and micro levels.

Jean Marc Sika, is Hivos East Africa’s Program Development Manager, Renewable Energy

Currently, policies of individual countries are not up to the urgency of the situation. Some countries are also still in denial of the urgency of these trends, especially those with nationalist and climate skeptic leaders who continue to postpone implementation of solutions. Global frameworks like The Paris Agreement  have had very limited impact on the situation. In fact, the Global Forest Watch reports that 12 million hectares of tropical forests were lost in 2019. This is 2.8 per cent higher than in 2019 and is equivalent to losing a football pitch of a primary rain forest every six seconds.

We celebrate young activists

On the social front, interesting movements are emerging thanks to the actions of front-runners like Greta Thunberg. They aim at creating global human consciousness by putting pressure on world leaders. These are moves in the right direction. However, the critical mass that can lead the world to the necessary mass transition towards action and solidarity has not yet reached. More people, countries and institutions should join the debate and move discussions from the experts’ level to the citizen arena for this global ecological identity and consciousness to flourish.