“A 2019 United Nations report by the world’s leading scientists warned that one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction worldwide due to human activity. At this scale, biodiversity loss will impact health, wellbeing and the future of the Earth in ways that are incomprehensible.”
On June 20 this year Amnesty International held a virtual World Refugee Day event with Nazik Kabalo, founder of the Sudanese Women Human Rights Project. Kabalo spoke about her harrowing experiences in Egypt and Sudan before coming to live in Canada. As many of us know, Canada closed its border with the USA to refugees last March in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Groups such as Amnesty International are highly critical of the decision, declaring it illegal and stating that Canada could have easily tested and quarantined refugees instead of compounding the risks refugees face each day.
The interplay between social injustice, biodiversity loss, climate breakdown and the world’s poorest people, including refugees and Indigenous tribes, has always been a huge source of consternation for me. How does this intricate matrix of loss cast a defining hue on all of us? Even the pandemic’s tragic clarion call, which linked all of humanity, gave vast advantages to the wealthy to withstand its blight, helped along the way by a nefarious plutocracy. The Poor People’s Campaign strives to address with transformative actions “interwoven injustices.” Its policy platform starts with this principle: “Everybody in, nobody out. Everybody is deserving of our nation’s abundance.”
The UN, through the Millennium Development Goals launched in 2000 with the aim of meeting them by the end of 2015, followed by the present 17 Sustainable Development Goals has sought to strengthen societal justice and give a renewed voice for those in poverty – but with varying success. These are laudable projects, and if robustly acted upon they will certainly be a catalyst for change, but they are only a green shoot for humanity’s urgent healing.
Governments deliberately took advantage of (but by and large haven’t rescinded) the additional powers granted to them during the pandemic to suspend environmental regulations, and allowed industrial projects to proceed that otherwise would have been scrutinized. After all, protest was forbidden. When pollution levels rise, it’s always the poorest neighbourhoods that suffer the most.
It has long been expressed that until all of humanity is respected and governments aim for inclusivity in all societal actions, thus acknowledging their responsibility to enhance the wellbeing of all their citizens, no country expresses a universal principle of justice. Yes, with great flourish countries such as the US have constitutions that express those aspirations, but they fail miserably to enact any semblance of equal justice. Even if they did, the lack of any obligation to apply fairness to the whole of Nature would tear apart any country’s wellbeing. Humans are not separate from Nature. At its best, a Nature’s Trust would defend our fellow inhabitants.
CO2 emissions diminished by 17% compared to 2019 by the beginning of our April confinement, and were comparable to April 2006 levels, but they are now rising quickly. By mid-June, CO2 was only 5% lower than in 2019. Carbon-intensive industries received huge grants, or loans at 0%.
Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), has expressed great concern about a “carbon rebound.” Speaking to The Guardian, he said: “The next three years will determine the course of the next 30 years and beyond. If we do not [take action] we will surely see a rebound in emissions. If emissions rebound, it is very difficult to see how they will be brought down in future. This is why we are urging governments to have sustainable recovery packages.”
It is clear from the IEA’s analysis that retrofitting buildings to make them more energy-efficient, installing solar panels, and building wind farms will be far more effective than continuing to sustain a high-carbon economy.
But the trillions of dollars yet to be pumped into the economy are targeting everything from airlines to the oil industry. An obscenely low level of support is being given to creating millions of green jobs for people who will then be able to feed their families and remain in their own countries instead of becoming refugees. By stopping biodiversity loss and halting climate breakdown, society can come to a renewed balance of life for the planet’s inhabitants.
The Black Lives Matter movement is not only about police racism. It points to deeply rooted bias against people living in poverty. “Transformative” is a key word if our world is to become a just one. Let us not forget about the plight of the rest of Nature. Please see www.iucnredlist.org