President says COVID-19 threatens fight against climate change


President Irfaan Ali on Thursday said the world’s focus on COVID-19 threatens the fight against climate change and the achievement of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. But speaking during a special virtual conference on climate change hosted by Guyana as chair of the powerful G-77 and China negotiating bloc, the President addressed ways in which the fight against climate change can still continue despite the fact that attention and resources have been diverted to fight the global pandemic.

Below is the full statement by the President:

“It is a distinct honour for my country, Guyana – a coastal low-lying developing country from the Caribbean sub-region – and for me, as Executive President, to welcome you to this virtual conference on climate change.

“This event has been convened under the theme “Maintaining a Low Carbon Development Path towards the 2030 Agenda in the Era of COVID- 19. This theme causes us to examine the interrelation between the pandemic, climate change and sustainable development. In the context of the world’s extant challenges, these three areas must be addressed in an integrated manner if we, as developing countries are to redefine our path for the future.

“This gathering will afford us the opportunity to facilitate awareness, build partnerships, share lesson-learning knowledge and experiences about climate actions amidst the COVID – 19 crisis and to discuss our key issues and concerns about climate change as we navigate towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In short, we have an opportunity here to enhance our collective enterprise in order to strengthen the prospects for sustainable development, climate security and a COVID -19 free world.

“Mr. Chairman, The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic threatens the fight against climate change by diverting our attention from the gravity of the environmental dangers we face while threatening to reverse the gains made in our quest towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has coincided with a series of unrepented hazards – storms, wildfires, floods and droughts – all linked to unacceptable levels of global warming and climate change. The immediate task of containing, mitigating and eventually eradicating the COVID-19 coronavirus must NOT force us to ignore the challenges of protecting the environment and the need for collective action.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic has led to the cancellation and postponement of numerous high-level climate-focused talks and events including the United Nations Climate Change Conference, (COP 26).

“Nonetheless, I wish to use this opportunity to applaud those who have remain steadfast in their commitment to the global climate and environmental crisis even in the face of this deadly pandemic.

“For many of the United Nations member states, the pandemic has adversely affected the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and threatens the successes gained in SDG milestones. Resources allocated for climate action and advancing progress for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals have had to be redirected to combat 3 the pandemic. It is for this reason that Guyana supports the call for placing the SDGs at the center of the pandemic recovery efforts.

“Climate change is another potent threat to sustainable development. The devastating effects of climate change are real. Extreme weather events and other natural disasters have adversely impacted our environment, our economies and our societies, including the reversal of development gains.

“Climate change therefore must be placed properly in the context of the discourse on sustainable development. In this regard, as G77 countries, we must consider the impact of climate change on issues such as poverty eradication and economic and social development.

“Sustainable Development Goal #1 commits us to “End poverty in all its forms everywhere.” Poverty remains a monumental global challenge, but one which has to be overcome. Poverty shackles human development and impairs human dignity. We must continue our efforts to reduce poverty through climate adaptation which helps to protect the poor.

“The Rio principle of common but differentiated responsibilities allows each of us to play a part within our means. This principle, now enshrined in international environmental law, recognizes that all countries have an obligation to address problems concerning the environment. But it also acknowledges that not all are blessed with the same capabilities.

“The interrelation of current pandemic and sustainable development goals is a source of concern for all, since the pandemic is depleting our financial and human capital assets. Our strategies to combat the impact of covid-19 pandemic have forced countries to increase their internal and external debts. This is likely to lead to negative growth and exacerbate poverty.

“When these happen, destruction of our fragile natural resources will be the first casualty. We should not allow our gains in sustainable development to be eroded by the pandemic. Poverty alleviation programmes should be actively funded so as to protect the natural environment.

“Mr. Chairman, Guyana as a net carbon sink, is ‘particularly vulnerable’ to climate change because of its geography and historical settlement patterns. The adverse, and potentially catastrophic, impacts of climate change are already conspicuous. The country has suffered from extreme weather events such as the Flood of 2005, which destroyed 60 percent of the country’s GDP. It has also experienced several localized extreme weather events, including intense rainfall and droughts in the hinterland regions. These have endangered livelihoods and food security. My Government intends to be more proactive in its efforts to combat the effects of climate change while at the same time advancing our development aspirations.

“In this regard, I wish to highlight the role of Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). The LCDS is aimed at transforming Guyana’s economy to better deliver greater socio-economic benefits to our people by following a low carbon development path while at the same time mainstreaming climate resilience. As part of the LCDS, and working in partnership with the Kingdom of Norway, Guyana was able to develop and implement one of the first national scale payment for forest climate services through avoided deforestation and sustainable management of our forest resources. We remain committed to advancing the LCDS and to collaborate with international partners to expand our work on REDD+ and payment for forest climate and ecosystem services.

“Mr. Chairman, I make the call here today for an integrated response to the threat posed by the pandemic, the climate crisis and the adverse effects of these on the sustainable development goals. As I have pointed out, the pandemic is diverting attention and resources from climate action and the SDGs, even as climate change is undermining the SDGs. It is necessary therefore for the response to the pandemic and the climate crisis be placed at the center of advancement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“In response to these challenges, I call on the international community to ensure greater financing is provided to meet the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, particularly in the post-COVID-19 era.

“Adaptation to climate change is of vital importance and a key component for the implementation of the Paris Agreement for developing countries within G-77 and China. In this light, adequate capacity building, financial support, and technology transfer are critical.

“As Chairman of the Group of 77 and China, I call for greater access to climate financing for developing countries. Many developing countries, due to high indebtedness, are constrained in their efforts to generate sufficient resources towards achieving the ‘2030 Agenda’. I call on the international financial community to explore and implement ways where debt can be reduced so as to allow developing countries the fiscal space to achieve the SDGs.

“Mr. Chairman, Guyana proudly accepts its share of responsibility for climate action, fighting the pandemic, and advancing along the path to sustainable development. In this regard, Guyana’s forest resource is one of the principal natural assets which can be utilized to generate the revenue needed for the growth and development of our country.

“We can maintain our forests to help in the global fight against climate change if we receive adequate financial resources, especially during this era of COVID-19. Mr. Chairman, everyone is acutely aware of the need for collective action to protect our planet and humanity.

“As I have said before, “Multilateralism is the key to unlocking solutions to humanity’s problems.” Issues of poverty, physical and social vulnerabilities, lack of adequate financing, inadequate preparedness, and economic retrogression can be addressed effectively if we act together. And the G-77 is so positioned to act.

“As I conclude, I would like to urge all of us to reflect on ways in which we can make our countries stronger and more responsive to combating the challenges posed by climate change in the current era of COVID-19.

“I would like to assure the international community of Guyana’s commitment to advancing the movement against climate change and achieving the ‘2030 Agenda’ through concerted action and shared responsibilities.”

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