The title “Geopolitical Assessment of Global Pandemics and Climate Change” comprises of four expressions – global pandemics, climate change, geopolitical assessment of global pandemics, and geopolitical assessment of climate change. We endeavor to discuss the whole issue under three heads for convenience.
Global Pandemics and Climate Change:
In the history of human civilization epidemics and pandemics have taken place several times in irregular intervals. Disease outbreaks have ravaged the humanity, sometimes changing the course of history, and at times signaling the end of entire civilization. Global pandemics and climate change are interconnected. In view of the researchers as the ‘climate change’ is mostly liable for global pandemics, so are the global pandemics to heal the damage of the climate.
Global warming, catastrophic loss in biodiversity, and reckless destruction of forestland have allowed disease to explode. Global warming is the long-term heating of Earth’s climate system observed since the preindustrial period (between 1850 and 1900) due to human activities, primarily fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere. The term is frequently used interchangeably with the term ‘climate change’, though the latter refers to both human and naturally produced warming and the effects it has on our planet. It is most commonly measured as the average increase in Earth’s global surface temperature. Since the preindustrial period, human activities are estimated to have increased Earth’s global average temperature by about one degree Celsius per decade. Most of the current warming trend is extremely likely (greater than 95% probability) the result of human activities since the 1950s and is proceeding at an unprecedented rate over the decades to millennia.
The warming of the climate is one of the principal drivers of the greatest-and-fastest loss of species diversity in the history of the planet, as shifting climate patterns force species to change habitats, push them into new region or threaten their food and water supplies. What is known as biodiversity is critical because the natural variety of plants and animals lends each species greater resiliency against threat and together offer a delicately balanced safety net for natural systems. As diversity wanes, the balance is upset, and remaining species are both more vulnerable to human influences and, according to a landmark 2010 study in the journal Nature, more likely to pass along powerful pathogens.
Roughly 60% of new pathogens come from animals – including those pressured by diversity loss – and almost one-third of those can be directly attributed to changes in human land use, meaning deforestation, the introduction of farming, development or resource extraction in otherwise natural settings. Victor-borne diseases – those carried by insects like mosquitoes and ticks and transferred in the blood of infected people – are also on the rise as warming weather and erratic precipitation vastly expand the geographic regions vulnerable to contagion. Climate is even bringing old viruses back from the dead, thawing zombie contagions like the anthrax released from a frozen reindeer in 2016, which can come down from the arctic and haunt from the past.
Around the world, according to the World Resource Institute, only 15% of the planet’s forests remain intact. The rest have been cut down, degraded or fragmented to the point that they disrupt the natural ecosystems that depend on them. As the forests die, and grasslands and wetlands are also destroyed, biodiversity sharply decreases further. The United Nations warns the number of species on the planet has already dropped by 20% and that more a million animal and plant species now face extinction. Losing species has, in certain cases, translated directly to a rise in infectious disease.
It is these small animals, the ones that manage to find food in garbage cans or build nests in the eaves of buildings, that are providing most adaptable to human interference and also happen to spread disease. Rodents alone accounted for more than 60% of all the diseases transmitted from animals to people, the researchers found. Warmer temperatures and higher rainfall associated with climate change – coupled with the loss of predators – are bound to make the rodent problem worse, with calamitous implications. In 1999, for example, parts of Panama saw three times as much rainfall as usual. The rat population exploded, researchers observed. And so did the viruses rats carry along with the chances those viruses would jump to people. That same year, a fatal lung disease transmitted through the saliva, feces and urine of rats and mice called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome emerged in Panama for the first time, according to a report in the journal ‘Emerging Infectious Diseases’.
As much as weather changes can drive changes in species, so does altering the landscape for new farms and new cities. In fact, researchers attribute a full 30% of emerging contagion to what they call ‘land use change’. Nothing drives land use shifts more than conversion for farmland and feedstock – a result of the push to feed the planet’s 7.8 billion people. As the global population surges to 10 billion over the next 35 years, and the capacity to farm food is stressed further again by the warming climate, the demand for land will only get more intense. Already, more than one-third of the planet’s land surface, and three-quarters cultivation of all fresh water, go toward the cultivation of the crops and raising of livestock. These are the places where infectious diseases spread more often.
From the above discussion it is evident that ‘climate change’ is the main factor to cause global pandemics. At the moment people across the world are enduring a global epidemic called ‘Covid-19 pandemic’. It is true that this pandemic is taking away precious human lives at a large scale. But at the same time it has resulted in numerous positive impacts on the environment and the climate. The considerable decline in planned travel has caused many regions to experience a large drop in air pollution. In China lockdowns and other measures resulted in a 25% reduction in carbon emissions and 50% reduction in nitrogen oxides emissions, which, one Earth systems scientist estimated, may have saved at least 77,000 lives over two months. Other positive impacts on the environment include governance-system-controlled investments towards a sustainable energy transition and other goals related to environmental protection such as the European Union’s seven-year one trillion Euro budget proposal and 750 billion Euro recovery plan “Next Generation EU” which seeks to reserve 25% of EU spending for climate-friendly expenditure. However the outbreak has also provided cover for illegal activities such as deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and poaching in Africa, hindered environmental diplomacy efforts, and created economic fallout that some predict will slow investment in green energy technologies.
Geopolitical Assessment of Global Pandemics:
At the present time ‘global pandemic’ implies to us the Covid-19 pandemic, which was originated in Wuhan, China in December 2019, but it was then falsely believed as pneumonia. In the meantime 1.25 million people have succumbed to this deadly disease worldwide and the fatality is still going on. No vaccine has yet been effectuated. According to the World Health Organization, mankind is to live with the novel coronavirus for indefinite period of time. If we take a look to a few worst epidemics and pandemics of the history, we find that 500 million people from South Seas to the North Pole fell victims of Spanish Flue in the last century between 1918 and 1920 and one-fifth of those died. If effective medicines/ vaccines do not come to hand immediately, the damage may surpass that of the last century.
It is thought that the horrible virus first emerged in an illegal wildlife market in Wuhan. Some unauthenticated source reveals that the virus emerged from a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan. Whatever may be the reason, it is true that China is the country of origin of this harmful virus. Allegedly China kept silent and did not disclose anything about the outbreak of this disease initially. China not only suppressed the severity of the disease, but also destroyed the relevant official records. If China had raised alarm of the disease and showed relevant records at the initial stage, the whole world could have got prepared for protection. China tried to mislead the world communities about the effect of the dangerous disease by making puzzling statements.
As people across the world expect maximum assistance from China, they observe with utter surprise the opposite picture on the other end. China has started fishing in the troubled water, that is, it has begun to apply its all methods to materialize the dream of expansionism and hegemony to its heart’s content abashing the world communities. China’s economic boom and military expansion are not unpredicted. Indeed over the last three decades, the economic miracle of China and the increase of its military spending have brought a tremendous debate about its rise as a dangerous superpower. Some speculated, this rise would result in a global hegemony and it will compete with America and expand global reach, while some guessed that it would promote world peace.
The present situation hints that China has terrifically failed to promote peace rather, it has emerged as a disturbing element in the South-East Asia as well as the whole world. China has no guilty-feelings about its spreading of novel coronavirus. Even when other countries are tired in tackling Covid-19 pandemic, China is remaining busy in making incursion to India through Ladakh border violating the Line of Actual Control (LAC). It has not only escalated border tensions with India, it has also an extensive plan to grab lands of other countries namely – Tajikistan, Russia, Mongolia, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar etc. It has already occupied independent Tibet, and Aksai Chin of India. It has territorial antagonism with Brunei, Laos, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan, and Australia over islands in South China Sea regarding underwater oil and gas. In July 2016, the permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague issued its ruling on a claim brought against China by the Philippines under UNCLOS in favour of the Philippines on almost every count. China as a signatory of the treaty, which established the tribunal, refuses to accept the court’s authority unethically. China’s tyranny on Uighur Muslims, Tibetans, and Hong Kong people is an open secret.
In recent years satellite imagery has shown China’s increased efforts to reclaim land in the South China Sea by physically increasing the size of islands or creating new islands altogether. In addition to piling sand onto existing reefs, China has constructed ports, military installations, and airstrips – particularly in the Paracel and Spartly Islands, where it has twenty and seven outposts, respectively.
At the same time China has trade disputes with USA, which has now reached warlike situation. It has trade disputes with Canada, Australia and other members of European Union and bad diplomatic relationships with many other countries including Sweden. Besides, China’s activities are not acceptable to most of the countries except a few. Amid the global pandemic when lives, livelihoods, communities and businesses worldwide are disrupted, China has reportedly entered into a covert agreement with Pakistan to make biological weapons in joint venture to punish their enemies (!), which is not commensurate with geopolitical culture. Now is the time to restrain China from committing its persistent misdemeanor, otherwise humanity will be defeated and there will remain a chance to endure a devastating third world war, which will be more awful than previous two others.
In this backdrop the geopolitical assessment would be to bring China to the table of negotiation, mediation or arbitration under the UN Charter or otherwise in order to moving forward to a peace building process regionally as well as globally and make it compensate the badly Covicd-19 affected nations.
Geopolitical Assessment of Climate Change:
The climate system is an interactive system, consisting of five major components: the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the cryosphere, the land surface, and the biosphere, forced or influenced by various external forcing mechanisms, the most important of which is the Sun. Also the direct effect of human activities on the climate system is considered an external forcing.
Emissions of greenhouse gases of human origin are the main cause of climate change. Their effects on global warming are devastating and it is becoming more and more urgent that these emissions are reduced to stop humans from exercising so much pressure on the planet. The situation is so critical that the International Energy Agency (IEA) has forecast an increase in emission of 130% by 2050 if we continue unabated.
The most polluting countries seem to be aware they must reduce their emission, but despite agreements such as Kyoto Protocol, these carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise. To a greater or lesser extent, almost all the countries are responsible for the high level global pollution, but there are five that stand out from the rest, namely – i) China (30%), ii) United States of America (15%), iii) India (7%), iv) Russia (5%), and v) Japan (4%).
Recently a team of researchers of the University of Georgia found that China and Indonesia are the top sources of plastic bottles, bags and other rubbish clogging up global sea lanes. Together both nations, account for more than a third of plastic detritus in global waters accounting to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
As per the research of pacific institute everyday two million tons of sewage and industrial waste are discharged into the world’s water (UN WWAP 2003), the equivalent weight of the entire human population. The UN estimates that the amount of water produced annually is about 1,500 km3, six times more water than exists in all the rivers of the world (UN WWAP 2003). The global water is being contaminated and polluted by various ways including human waste, industrial and mining waste, and agricultural waste. It is evident that 60% of the world’s 227 biggest rivers have interrupted stream flows due to dams and other infrastructures. Interruption in stream flow dramatically decrease sediment and nutrient transport to downstream stretches, reducing water quality and impairing ecosystem. The activities as referred above have adverse impacts on human health, ecosystem, groundwater, and above all existence of human lives.
In the above discussion only the cause and effect of the climate change have been emphasized without exploring the way out. At this juncture the focus may be made on ‘The Trail Smelter’ case. The Trail Smelter arbitration between 1938 and 1941 was a landmark decision about a dispute over environmental degradation between the United States and Canada. This was the first decision to recognize international liability for damages caused to another nation, even when no existing treaty created an obligation to prevent such damage.
A tribunal was set up by Canada and the United States to resolve a dispute over timber and crop damages caused by a smelter on the Canadian side of the border. The tribunal decided that Canada had to pay the United States for damages and further that it was obliged to abate the pollution. In delivering their decision, the tribunal made an historic and often-cited declaration: “Under the principles of international law, as well as of the law of the United States, no State has the right to use or permit the use of its territory in such a manner to cause injury by fumes in or to the territories or persons therein, when the case is of serious consequence and the injury is established by clear and convincing evidence…”
The case was landmark because it was the first to challenge historic principles of international law, which subordinated international environmental duty to nationalistic claims of sovereignty and free-market methods of unfettered industrial development. The Trail Smelter decision has since become the primary precedent of international environmental law, which protects the environment through a process known as the “web of treaty law”. According to the principles as enunciated in the Trail Smelter case, a country which creates transboundary pollution or some other environmentally hazardous effect is liable for the harm this causes, either directly or indirectly, to another country.
In line with Trail Smelter case, upon complaints of the affected nations, the global communities can arrange international arbitration or mediation so as to restrain the accused nations from their reckless and suicidal advancement in all respect and make them pay compensation to the affected and vulnerable nations.
1) www.climate.nasa.gov [Overview: Weather, Global Warming and Climate Change]
2) How climate change is contributing to skyrocketing rates of infectious disease – by Abrahm Lustgarten, published in Propublica
5) How climate change is contributing to skyrocketing rates of infectious disease” by Abrahm Lustgarten
7) en.m.wikipedia.org [Impact of the CVID – 19 pandemic on the environment]
8) www.livescience.com [20 of the worst epidemics and pandemics in history by Owen Jarus]
9) www.cfr.org [Territorial disputes in the South China Sea/ Global Conflict Tracker]
11) www.ipcc.ch [The Climate System: An Overview by APM Baede,E. Ahlonsou, and S. Pollonais]
14) www.statista.com [The Countries Polluting the Oceans the Most; by Niall McCarthy]
15) www.pacinst.org [World water quality facts and statistics]
16) www.encyclopedia.com [Trail Smelter Arbitration/ Encyclopedia]
18) www.encyclopedia.com [Trail Smelter Arbitration/ Encyclopedia]