Protesters demonstrate against direction taken by climate change
talks. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS
By Farhana Haque Rahman
ROME, Jan 6 2020 (IPS)
Let’s face what lies ahead with open eyes: 2020 is going to be
a very tough year for the world, and developing countries in
particular. The infant decade has already begun with the harbingers
of climate disaster as thousands fled to beaches in Australia from
raging bush fires, and the Middle East braced for more conflict
after a U.S. air strike in Baghdad killed Iran’s top
But even as the world needs a concerted and decisive response to
its challenges, we risk more of the backsliding and indifference
towards humanity that in 2019 characterised the behaviour of many
powerful governments, from Australia to the United States, from
Brazil to China.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has cited wars, the
climate crisis, gender-based violence and persistent inequality in
warning that the world is well behind meeting the deadlines of its
2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 2019 SDG report
showed momentum for positive change, but also identified several
areas that need urgent collective action: the climate crisis, human
suffering, quality education, and gender discrimination.
Many countries and stakeholders have indeed responded with
pledges of “SDG Acceleration Actions”. But we need to be
brutally honest about the gulf between past promises and
Warning that the world will still have 500 million people in
extreme poverty in 2030, Mr. Guterres has called for this to be a
Decade of Action. But he surely didn’t envisage what President
Donald Trump had in mind with the drone strike he ordered that
killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on
January 3. Iran quickly pledged “tough revenge” and “World
War III” was trending on Twitter.
Even without further conflict in the region, the proxy war
fought in Yemen between Iran and Saudi Arabia is expected by the UN
to continue as “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis” in
2020 after nearly five years of fighting. An estimated 24 million
people, or 80 per cent of Yemen’s population, will remain in need
Worldwide 168 million people will need humanitarian aid and
protection in crises across more than 50 countries in 2020,
according to the UN’s emergency relief coordinator. The UN
humanitarian affairs coordination office (OCHA) launched its Global
Humanitarian Overview 2020 with an appeal for nearly $29 billion in
aid from donors. “It is the highest figure in decades,” Mark
Lowcock, head of OCHA, said, blaming climatic shocks, large
infectious disease outbreaks and intensifying, protracted conflicts
for an increase of some 22 million people in need last year.
Armed conflicts are already killing and maiming a record number
of children, with women and girls at higher risk of sexual and
gender-based violence than before.
The UN Children’s Fund UNICEF has called for $4.2 billion
for its 2020 emergency appeal to reach 59 million children with
life-saving support in 64 countries. This is more than triple the
funds requested in 2010.
“Around the world today, we’re seeing the largest number of
children in need of emergency assistance since we began
record-keeping. One in four children lives in a country affected by
conflict or disaster,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta
UN risk assessments were blown off course by worse than expected
climate crisis-related events, such as drought, flooding and
But the world’s efforts to deal with the climate emergency
have been dealt a most severe blow by the policies of Brazil’s
President Jair Bolsonaro.
Deforestation of the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical
rainforest, soared in 2019 to levels not seen in a decade.
Protected areas have been opened to mining and agricultural
conversion, and murders of environmentalists have increased.
Commenting on the global picture, Rhett Butler, founder of the
Mongabay non-profit environment website, says: “After a decade of
increased deforestation, broken commitments, and hundreds of
murders of rainforest defenders, the 2020s open as a dark moment
for the world’s rainforests.”
Farhana Haque Rahman
Agronomists such as Carlos Nobre and Thomas Lovejoy warn that the
Amazon is reaching a critical tipping point as it shows signs of
shifting from humid tropical forest towards degraded wooded savanna
which would result in releasing massive amounts of carbon into the
atmosphere. It is urgent that Brazil move away from unsustainable
agribusiness monocultures of cattle, soy and sugarcane, and launch
a major reforestation project on already degraded lands.
But Mr Bolsonaro is also joined by Mr Trump, who will seek
re-election this year, in abandoning climate leadership and
damaging global conservation efforts.
The latest mantra for climate scientists and UN envoys seeking
to broker global agreements is that “2020 is the last best
chance” to turn the tide of the climate emergency. Under the 2015
Paris Agreement countries pledged to review and, hopefully, ramp up
their efforts to cut greenhouse gases by this year, meaning that a
lot of effort is needed ahead of the crucial UN climate conference,
COP26, to be held in Glasgow in November.
As noted by climate news site Carbon Brief, with key emitters
such as the US, Australia and Brazil hostile towards international
climate action, a lot now hangs on China and the EU acting as one
to maintain the Paris Agreement’s momentum.
But China, along with Brazil and India, have been called out by
the Association of Small Island
States as actively blocking ambitious outcomes in discussions
on carbon credit discussions.
Last month’s COP (Conference of the Parties) in Madrid was
widely viewed by climate activists as a flop.
Protestors outside the conference hall, including Swedish
teenager Greta Thunberg, demonstrated the yawning gulf between
their aspirations and those inside of procrastinating
The diplomatic Mr Guterres said he was “disappointed” at the
outcome and said the major emitters of greenhouse gases need to
“do much more” in 2020.
Indeed. Much, much more.
Farhana Haque Rahman is Senior Vice President
of IPS Inter Press Service; a journalist and communications expert,
she is a former senior official of the United Nations Food and
Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for
Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
2020: a Year Full of Danger