Issues and Challenges

51st Earth Day Amid COVID-19

Earth Day is celebrated every year on April 22, to raise awareness and highlight environmental problems, such as air, water and soil pollution. Earth Day Network (EDN), the organizing body for Earth Day worldwide, announced that the theme of 2021 will be ‘Restore Our Earth’. EDN announced: “The theme is based on the emerging concept that rejects the idea that our only options to save the planet are to mitigate or adapt to the impacts of climate change and other environmental damage. Scientists, non-governmental organizations, businesses, and governments worldwide now are looking at natural system processes and emerging green technologies to restore the world’s ecosystems and forests, conserve and rebuild soils, improve farming practices, restore wildlife populations and rid the world’s oceans of plastics.” 
Restoring earth’s environment is an inspiration to spread ‘hope’. Hope is the need of the hour, especially during these are unprecedented times. On one hand, the pandemic has clearly illustrated that we are facing two major crises, which are interconnected: global environmental degradation and our deteriorating health. On the other, the lockdown has made us appreciate nature. As busy cities went quiet, the residents started seeing wildlife venturing into streets once crawling with vehicles. Birdsongs early in the morning, butterflies in the garden and clear blue skies became part of the routine.

Islamabad, perhaps the only capital in the world with a thick natural forest, was thrilled to discover that there were not just one or two but five common leopards living in Margalla Hills National Park. The leopards were seen roaming the trails since the park closed down during the lockdown. 
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is rethinking how we live and appreciating the natural beauty of our planet. More than one billion people from 192 countries are expected to participate in Earth Day activities in 2021, making it the largest civic observance in the world. It will probably be celebrated amidst lockdowns across the globe as the pandemic rages on with no end in sight. However, we need to stop and think; is this just a temporary pause giving our polluted environment some much-needed respite and allowing nature to heal itself or will we soon go back to our polluting ways?
For now, we do not know enough about this virus to predict anything. One thing is for sure, our world is changing before us, but we also have the luxury to re-evaluate our priorities. We environmentalists can tell you that we are on an unsustainable trajectory. For us it was just a question of time — when not if our planet would teeter on the brink of collapse. None of us predicted a global pandemic but we all knew that the tipping point scientists warned us about was going to take place sooner rather than later.
We started working towards climate change. Many activist and the youth had already been working before the pandemic hit us. They joined Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and other climate activists creating awareness about the “climate emergency”. We were all determined to fight against the powerful oil and gas companies and the wealthy corporations who resisted calls for change. We were ready to ramp up protests in preparation for Climate Change Conference 2020 and then COVID-19 knocked our socks off.
According to United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), governments are expected to update their national climate plans by the end of 2021. Nicholas Stern, COP26 adviser to the UK government says: “There is an opportunity in the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis to create a new approach to growth that is sustainable, inclusive and resilient … Now is the time to forge a new internationalism and move from this crisis to a much more sustainable economy in closer harmony with the natural world.”
This pandemic is taking place while the world faces an ecological crisis, which is bound t0 threaten the lives of millions of people around the world. As we help each other through the COVID-19 crisis, we must keep in mind that further international efforts will be needed to ensure a more sustainable future. The pandemic has already shown us that a cleaner and safer world is within our reach.
Today, world governments might be too distracted but climate crisis will not wait. If we do not change, the way we live then the world will continue to experience harsh weather, including extreme drought, flooding, rising sea levels and heat waves. The future is uncertain but the pandemic has shown us that drastic change is possible. Like Pakistan’s special assistant to the PM on climate change, Malik Amin Aslam says, “Drastic reductions in air pollution and greenhouse gases are certainly one of the silver linings of the otherwise tragic COVID-19 episode. More than any other thing it has shown us the extremely strong nexus between congested vehicle traffic and air pollution especially in urban centers and also the extremely quick turnaround that can happen when nature is given space to come back.
It also shows that this is a problem, which has a solution and that is to reduce and minimize pollution. Nature’s comeback has certainly given food for thought as well as responsive action to policy makers.” HH

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