Think Covid-19 will cause leaders to commit on climate change? Dream on.

Peter Bale writes that the leadership at the United Nations, G7, G20, and the European Commission have been missing in action. 

By Peter Bale

(About the author: Peter Bale is a London-based journalist currently working under coronavirus lockdown in his native New Zealand. He’s worked for Reuters, the Financial Times, The Times, CNN, Microsoft and the Center for Public Integrity, among others.)

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND (Callaway Climate Insights) — A global pandemic has triggered an international reaction of staggering impact with most of the world economy shut down at a stroke and a level of government intervention not seen in market economies since the 1970s.

It is amazing, but what the reaction is not is coordinated or aimed at the greatest threat to humanity — climate change.

If you are among those arguing that the Covid-19 crisis will cause political leaders or entire populations to rethink their collective reluctance to act on the science of climate change and avert environmental catastrophe at some point in the future, you’re dreaming.

The near irrelevance of the United Nations, the G7, the G20 and the European Commission to this saga of a virus exploiting globalization to attack human civilization is one of the great stories of the Covid-19 crisis.

They have been missing in action, about as useful as OPEC preventing oil prices from falling.

Only the much-maligned World Health Organisation (WHO) has arguably been effective as any sort of coordinated reaction to what is inherently a crisis of globalization. It was in Wuhan and Beijing, and from Geneva it called out the alarm early and loudly.

But the relentless attacks on WHO from the White House is the best indication of why this crisis is unlikely to lead to an epiphany among world leaders and a Kumbaya moment that they need to “listen to the science” and tackle the causes or impact of climate change.

President Donald Trump, the great isolationist, has won with his wrongheaded but searing attack on the alleged incompetence and corruption at the WHO. He has given heart to fellow authoritarian isolationists like Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro (a skeptic of both coronavirus and global warming), Viktor Orban of Hungary, and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

Despite the evidence of repeated WHO warnings and the presence of U.S. scientists on the WHO teams in Geneva and in China, Trump mendaciously attacked the science and the motivation of the one international organisation with any credibility right now.

There’s something going on” at the WHO “that’s very bad,” and "I have a feeling they knew exactly what was going on,” Trump said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made certain that any glimmer of global cooperation of Covid-19 would be snuffed out when he insisted at a G7 meeting that Covid-19 (correctly named by the WHO against a set of agreed criteria) be described in a communique as the “Wuhan virus”.

As French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian said in a statement in which you could easily imagine the phrase “climate change” replacing the word “pandemic” that the row over the demands to single China out over the virus “underscored the need to combat any attempt to exploit the crisis for political purposes and expressed the view that the unity of all in order to effectively combat the pandemic ...”

Remember that Trump has called climate change a Chinese conspiracy.

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” Trump wrote in 2012.

“It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit, Mich.; and Pittsburgh, Pa., along with many, many other locations within our great country, before Paris, France,” Trump said in 2017 when he announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

And this week, American diplomats blocked a declaration from the G20 health ministers intended to endorse the WHO’s role in tackling the pandemic. From the start it’s been an America First response to the pandemic from what Germany called “piracy” to redirect surgical hygiene shipments to the U.S. and Trump’s attempt to lure a German vaccine maker to the United States to produce a solution purely for the United States.

Meanwhile, those in favor of an international response to both the pandemic and global warming — from Pope Francis to French President Emmanuel Macron — plead for a joint response to common threats to humanity.

“People are suffering, sick and scared, and current responses at the country level will not address the global scale and complexity of the crisis,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said this month in a speech which put the pandemic ahead of climate change.

Mark Carney, the Canadian banker now stepping down as the governor of the Bank of England, has turned himself into a kind of global coordinator of the economic imperative of preparing for and countering climate change, sees parallels with the pandemic.

“After the Covid crisis, it’s reasonable to expect people to demand improvements in the quality and coverage of social support and medical care, greater attention to be paid to managing tail risks, and more heed to be given to the advice of scientific experts,” he wrote in a guest column in The Economist this month.

“The great test of whether this new hierarchy of values will prevail is climate change. After all, climate change is an issue that (i) involves the entire world, from which no one will be able to self-isolate; (ii) is predicted by science to be the central risk tomorrow; and (iii) we can only address if we act in advance and in solidarity.”

Is there any evidence Trump, Pompeo, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Orban or their ilk are listening?

Above, The Voice of Reason, sculpture by Adolph Weinman, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Library of Congress.)