by Avalumun Kaa/Nigeria
Edited by Dharling Bernas/Philippines
Graphic by Dana Praise Guerrero/Philippines
History has already recorded that a novel virus emerged during the end of the year 2019. It was first identified in China's Wuhan on December 30th, 2019 (Lu et al., 2020), and its effects ravaged the whole wide world to the extent that World Health Organization(WHO) succumbed to declaring it a "global pandemic" on March 11th, 2020 (WHO, 2020). That was how fast it took the virus to reach global proportions (Acter et al., 2020) and disrupt all human enterprises. The name of the virus is "CoronaVirus disease 2019" (COVID-19), an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2 (Zhu et al., 2020). Cases of the virus spread rapidly and abruptly - faster than wildfires if you want to say that! Corresponding stringent rules to curb the spread of the virus were put in place by governments worldwide. The safety protocol from total lockdown of countries and their territories to the international travel ban significantly slowed down transportation demand and altered global carbon dioxide (CO2) emission to a reduction of more than 5 percent relative to the first quarter (Q1) of 2019 (IEA).
Changing Climate is Human-Induced
We are in a world that, over the decade, suggests serial global trying times. The statistics of climate change are becoming more frightening, leaving us with only the option to lower our carbon footprint(s) (Teooh Events, 2020). The present decade is best described as a critical decade for the Earth and the decade of Action by the United Nations. Suffice to say that Climate Change is the most urgent issue of this generation due to a wide array of human intervention in the world, such as real-time pollution, land degradation, and desertification. The world is currently being overwhelmed with environmental challenges. Ultimately, novel challenges would arise and may be much more overwhelming. This projection begs for quick actions with much ardour from every nook and cranny of the Earth.
Amongst the many problems of this world are climate change and other environmental challenges. Anthropogenic activities remain the mainstream factor that fuels it. It has an enormous threat to humanity both in the current and coming decades. Climate change has successfully integrated into a local, national and global affair where human-induced actions pose risks to environmental and human systems. The challenges of climate change lie across freshwater resources, coastal environment, food and agriculture, ecosystem, human health, and national security. The future of these natural resources depends on the very actions humans would take to remedy the risk.
Conferences in the COVID-19 Era
The pandemic has caused the irregular flow of events across the world. In the world of high-tech advancement coupled with the society constrained by the CoronaVirus, online conferences are the better option where we belong. They mimic in-person meetings and also provide platforms for networking. And would also reduce the transportation demand thereby, reducing tons of carbon dioxide emissions (tCO2e). Measure global events such as conferences that were initially scheduled in the year 2020 were either postponed, cancelled, or held virtually because of the global pandemic. For example, the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) initially scheduled for November 2020 was postponed to the year 2021; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) working group II unusually held a series of virtual meetings from 17th to 28th August 2020 to advance work on its Assessment Report. International Conferences are an integral part of human development, where information and knowledge exchange take place intensively and extensively. However, these kinds of conferences are the largest of their field, bringing together (in-person) thousands of people from different continents, which requires transportation, mostly air travel. These conferences are also responsible for thousands of tons of carbon emissions. Arsenault et al. (2019) report that professors at the University of Montreal travel on average 33,000 km per year for conferences and generates up to 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person. In the journal of sustainability tourism, Higham and Font (2020) revealed that 263 economics conference attendees travelled 417 million km overall, emitting 50,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. These reports should question the sustainability of international conferences long before Covid-19 (Lisa Clancy, 2020).
The emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere is one of the key movers of a changing climate. We should be aware that we cannot win the battle against climate change without the complementary approach to decarbonize and reduce emissions. That means we must be willing to take a shot now and leverage the effect of CoronaVirus to drive the green stimulus and recovery plan. The arsenals to combat climate change may not have to be the bullets, but the artilleries. And one of those shots is by declaring conference travels unnecessary as we advance into the post-COVID-19 era. Covid-19 posed dramatic scenarios to human existence. It gives reasons to navigate towards the new normal, and change how we live, works, and even dress.
Because we've seen that virtually conducted conferences are as pretty the same in the result as in-person conferences, in as much as the economic aspect of the transport sector would be hampered, we should be able to understand that the artillery is better used during the war. And humanity is at war with climate change. We are environmentally complacent for too long. People put in enormous costs in attending a conference as most of the attendees would need to come from great distances- overseas. Costs are ranging from registration cost, flight cost, accommodation cost, and other convenience costs. The only cost we neglect, unfortunately, to put into consideration is the environmental cost. We have to change that. And this is the time for a change. Air travel is particularly horrible as it facilitates global warming as bad as land travel and industries. It warms the planet disproportionately, says Michael Hicks (2016).
If travelling around the world for conferences (which can be done online) would emit carbon dioxide (CO2) hazardous to the atmosphere and ruin our planet, maybe we should resort to staying at home. After all, the pandemic taught us to stay at home as much as possible and lower our living carbon footprint. We are in the wake of disruptive emerging technologies, just as we are in an emerging crisis. The internet is a powerful tool in this present age. One sits in the comfort of his room, but he can reach out across continents in the world. The big question is, should we continue as before? My answer is, NO! Conferences can be reimagined and redesigned with the hypothetical advancement of technology. We should be able to leverage the internet systems and the challenge of the Corona Virus and protect our planet. We should switch international conferences to online meetings or limit in-person meetings to the minimum capacity limits. I prefer to say; Digitize to Decarbonise. Greta Thunberg, the hero of climate activism to add to the air travel emission, once sail across the Atlantic Ocean instead of travelling by air to deliver her speech at the United Nations global warming summit in New York. It is settled: I won't be flying anymore, except in cases of a family emergency, declared Gideon Forman (2019). These are the kind of individual responsibilities all of us must take to curtail the raging roar of the changing climate.
As badly as this pandemic has impacted the world, it still came with positive prospects, I must say. It has allowed amplifying the pace of reimagining the world around the quantum of human challenges. And that includes the new way of doing conferences.
Over the short space of time, the pandemic has significantly influential in reducing the carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) ̶ one of the greenhouse gases (GHG). A report given by scientific American (2020) shows that, during the lockdown period, carbon dioxide emission tumbled to levels never seen since 2006. It helped immensely in lessening the climate change impact during the period. The climate benefit gotten from the Covid-19 lockdown should not be allowed to be transient.
Over 40 million flights are estimated to occur each year. Meanwhile, the air transport action group (ATAG) reports that, in 2019, 4.5 billion passengers were carried by the world's airlines, bringing to about 915 million tonnes emission of carbon dioxide (tCO2e). The International Air Transport Association (IATA) (2020) reports that the combustion of 1 kilogram (Kg) of jet fuel in an aircraft engine produces 3.15kg of carbon dioxide (CO2). On the other hand, Carbon Independent (2019) revealed that about 90 kilograms of carbon dioxide are emitted by a plane per hour. When you do the arithmetic relative to an international flight that takes hours, you understand how bad this is. Even though air travel is responsible for a mere 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions and 12 percent emission from the transportation sector, the effect can be way more severe as airplane emits CO2 directly into the higher atmosphere and thus poses a greater impact than the emission at sea level (IPCC, 2020). A report made available by Financial Times (2020) revealed that airline emissions fell by almost a third in march 2020 due to the Covid-19 national lockdown globally that restricted flights around the world. Global flight numbers went down as much as 70% in April 2020 (IATA, 2020) and saw a drop in emission equivalent of taking off 6 million cars from the road (FT, 2020).
The fight against climate change is not individual. It is even beyond the game of personal choices. It is far beyond being about what one chooses to do and what one chooses not to do. It is a come-together systemic approach and the embracing of collective responsibilities. That said, the minute fraction of individuals involved in aero mobility in conferences, meetings, and talks must also agree to partake in the fight for the planet. The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement requires that aviation emissions are stabilized and then rapidly decline (Scott et al., 2016). The target can only be possible when there is a decline in the in-person, aero-mobile conferences to be redesign into the international conferences organizing framework.
Acter T., N. Uddin, J. Das, A.Akheter, T.R. Choudhuny, S.Kim. Evolution of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-COV-2) as coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) Pandemic; a global health emergency. Sci. Total Environ., 730 (2020), Article 138996
Aviation, 2019. Available at https://www.carbonindependent.org/22.html Accessed 10th October, 2020
Financial Times, 2020. Emissions fall sharply around the world from pandemic grounds flights. Available at www.ft.com/Aircraft ,Assessed on 16 Oct. 2020.
Gideon Forman, 2019. Avalaible at davidsuzuki.org/expert-article/why-im-giving-up-air-travel/ Accessed 8th October, 2020
IATA Report, 30 April,2020. Version 10.1
James Higham and Xavier Font (2020). Decarbonizing academia: confronting our climate hypocrisy, Journal of sustainability Tourism, 28:1, 1-9
Julien Arsenault et al (2019) Environ. Res. Lett. 14 095001
Lisa Clancy, 2020. Academic conferences in a post-COVID-19 world. Available at www.internationalscienceediting.com/academc-conferences-in-a-post-covid-19-world/amp/
Lu, R. X. Zhao, J. Li, P.Niu, B.Yang, et al. Genomic characterization and epidemiology of 2019 novel Coronavirus: Implications for virus origins and receptor binding. Lancet, 395 (10224) (2020), pp.565-574 medium.com/@teoohevents/the-environmental-impact-of-large-conferences-an-events-83ab4296b334 Accessed 30th, October,2020.
Michael Hicks (2016). Carbon footprint of conference travel. Avalaible at http://www.pl-enthusiast.net/2016/06/08/carbon-footprint-conference-travel/ Accessed 29th, October,2020.
Scott Daniel, C. Michael Hall and Stefan Gossling (2016) A report on the Paris Climate Change Agreement and its implications for tourism: why we will always have Paris, Journal of Sustainability Tourism, 24:7, 933-948
WHO, 2020. WHO announces Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic. Available at http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-emergencies/coronavirus-covid-19/news/news/2020/3/who-announces-covid-19-outbreak-a-pandemic, Accessed date: 30th, October, 2020.
Avalumun Kaa is few things wrapped up in a single individual. He is a die-hard Climate Activist in Nigeria. The author of "Knowledge The Hub of Success: Rediscover Your Intellectual Ingenuity" is an avid book buff and pleasures in writing. He is a project member of the ATO - ClimatEducate Project. He also previously served as a member of the Selection Committee for the United Nations Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change in 2020, and currently as the member of the Global Coordination Team of YOUNGO. He holds a Bachelor of Forestry degree in Nigeria.