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Reduce risk of future epidemics by improving climate change commitments now, MPs warn

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JAKARTA – On International Earth Day, and as the coronavirus epidemic rages on in Southeast Asia, and the rest of the world, regional MPs are today warning of the need to combat climate change and environmental destruction in order to lower the risk of future health emergencies.

“The coronavirus pandemic we are currently facing teaches us an important lesson; that we must anticipate and address crises before they are upon us, and panic sets in,” said Walden Bello, a former Philippines Member of Parliament (MP) and Board Member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).* “The good news is that we can reduce the risk of future epidemics by addressing climate change and deforestation. To do that, we need ASEAN governments to clearly and officially commit to submitting more ambitious climate action plans before COP26 in 2021.” *

Research shows that the number of emerging infectious diseases, such as the coronavirus known as COVID-19, has grown considerably since the 1940s. Deforestation and urbanisation, by increasing our proximity to wildlife, have contributed to this alarming escalation. Yet, Southeast Asian governments have provided a worrying lack of protective measures against deforestation, ecosystem disruption and biodiversity loss in the region, APHR said.

“Evidence shows that deforestation and urbanisation increase our risk of catching infectious diseases like coronavirus. Southeast Asia’s staggering rate of deforestation, with more than 32 million hectares of forest *lost since 1990, puts the region especially at risk,” *said Sarah Elago, a Philippines MP and APHR member. *“Our governments have to act swiftly against deforestation by increasing protected areas and environmental safeguards against investment projects if we want to reduce the risk of reliving covid19-like epidemics,” *

Climate change also contributes to the increased risk of epidemics in the region, including malaria, cholera and dengue fever. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a global temperature rise of between two and three degrees Celsius will increase the number of people at risk of malaria “by several hundred million”, putting greater strains on healthcare systems across the region.

Despite this, Southeast Asian countries are doing little to tackle climate change.

Their climate action plans, also known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), submitted as part of the Paris Agreement are considered insufficient by the scientific community. According to the Climate Action Tracker, Indonesia and Singapore’s climate action plans are highly insufficient and Vietnam’s is deemed “critically insufficient” to meet the Paris Agreement goal.

And yet, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and many others refuse to submit more ambitious plans. We need to turn this situation around and make ASEAN governments increase the ambition of their climate action plans by the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), in the United Kingdom in 2021 in order to tackle this massive threat to our right to health and life that is climate changes, said APHR.

*“APHR is calling on governments in Southeast Asia to commit to improving their commitments to tackling climate change ahead of COP 26. So far, only Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Timor-Leste have done so. For the health and survival of us all, other nations must follow their lead.” said *Walden Bello.