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06 August, 2020
 
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Pandemic highlighted urgency of tackling climate challenges

IMBE Scientific Co-Director said many large cities are recognizing the need to rapidly transform their transport systems

Newsroom / CNA

While the coronavirus crisis has highlighted our vulnerabilities as a globally connected society, the recognition of the need to stabilize our climate and protect biodiversity preceded the current crisis by many years, Wolfgang Cramer, Scientific Co-Director of the Mediterranean Institute of Marine and Terrestrial Biodiversity and Ecology (IMBE), said Friday.

In an interview with the Cyprus News Agency on the even greater and more pressing challenges the world is now faced as a result of the pandemic, Cramer was asked about the climate change skeptics.

“In fact, ‘skepticism’ is part of the scientific method - we must always question our findings to advance toward a better understanding, and this is what we do,” he said, adding those who disregard scientific evidence and hail climate change as a myth are more suitably referred to as ‘denialists’.

“They know the truth; they are also happy to use scientists’ results when this suits their personal goals. But when it comes to the need for decisive action to protect the environment, they simply deny the facts,” Cramer said.

“We expected this to happen again when the COVID-19 crisis began, but the bluntness and arrogance with which even the highest-level scientific advisors are pushed away by some politicians has shocked me,” he added.

"There is no justification for investments in the wrong direction, such as for oil and gas exploration"

Cramer noted that the Paris Agreement, for example, was based on scientific findings and that simply walking away from the agreement, does not solve the environmental crisis.

“It is yet too early to say how the struggle against COVID-19 has been hampered by poor basic living conditions - but this is similar to climate change and the biodiversity crisis: we simply did not need the COVID-19 crisis as a wake-up call. The need for a transition of our society to one that is based on good life with fulfilment of all basic needs, rather than on high consumption of short-lived products, are unchanged,”, he underlined.

The Mediterranean

Regarding the Mediterranean region, Cramer highlighted the need for synergies and common strategies to be found, but this is often hampered by the fact that some countries are not members of the EU, and therefore abide by different rules, guidelines and laws, while some are extremely poor or torn by wars.

He recognized that political instability and human suffering indeed make it more difficult to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to adapt to climate change and to conserve biodiversity.

“But I am optimistic that all efforts to better cooperate, and to support lower-income nations in their sustainability transition will eventually also stabilize society and reduce conflict,” Cramer said.

Notably, he added, in the renewable energy sector, there are plenty of opportunities for Southern countries to develop their economy, if stable cooperation can be assured. According to Cramer, there are encouraging signs in this direction, supported by political bodies such as the Union for the Mediterranean.

“But no government has time to lose in this context. There is no justification, for example, for investments in the wrong direction, such as for oil and gas exploration - these will cause huge damage to the climate and ultimately to people in the Mediterranean as well,” he added.

Sustainable cities

Cramer was also asked about the significant changes in our daily routines in terms of transportation, because of the pandemic.

He said that it is truly fascinating to see that many major cities worldwide suddenly recognize that more space for bicycles and pedestrians can be created ‘on the fly’, that this allows many people to move around more easily and that air quality takes a drastic leap to the better.

“A large part of the growing Mediterranean population will live in cities that are yet to be built. Yet is extraordinarily naive to believe that all these people will be in a position to use a car on a daily basis - not even an electric one, as there will simply not be the space for these, nor the material resources to buy and maintain them,” Cramer noted.

He said that a number of large cities around the world have already understood these simple facts and are rapidly transforming their transportation systems, pointing out that the current situation can serve as a nice demonstration case showing all city planners that everyone wins if that process is accelerated.

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