Charles B. Chilufya, S.J

Photo by Thomson Reuters Foundation

The fabled Albert Einstein is reckoned to have once said that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Nations are meeting at the COP 26 climate summit to resolve the perennial giant and urgent problem of climate change having failed to resolve another urgent problem glaring in their faces, the COVID-19 global pandemic. 

The pandemic has literally upended our lives, closed down the entire world at a time and even stopped the same nations from convening the COP 26 last year. The problem is far from over as most of us still feel unsafe to mingle and move around freely as we always did before, for we know that no one is safe until all are safe. Attending the COP 26 meeting, delegates have to observe countless strict protocols, rules and procedures meant to help them avoid infection or to pass it on to another. 

So, having refused to solve a problem for which it could have found solutions months ago, the world is meeting to solve another global problem. It sounds like Einstein knew what we humans are capable of – insanity! 

Thanks to the ingenuity and magic of science we have vaccines, but vaccines for the richer and more privileged few. Richer nations have reopened, thanks to rapid vaccination programmes while most people in the developing countries are still waiting for their first dose. This is despite global pledges to distribute more vaccines. A few months ago, in June, the G-7 leaders of the world’s richest nations met and pledged to share 1 billion vaccine doses with poorer countries. We are yet to see the fulfilment of that pledge! This week more speeches have been made by leaders, almost all of them pledging to combat climate change. 

So far, the richer northern nations have managed to inoculate more than 70% of their population who have received at least one dose of the vaccine while in low-income countries, the figure is less than 4% and in some extreme cases, in some countries in Africa, the number could be as low as 1%. Experts warn that if this level of vaccine inequity remains the way it is, another 5 million people will die unnecessarily next year.  Nations have lamentably failed to cooperate in finding a solution for all to COVID-19 but are still meeting to want to cooperate to solve another global problem!

Humanity is facing two emergencies at once, when this was not even necessary. If nations wanted, one crisis or even both could have been behind us. At every COP26 summit countries seem to agree that they must work together to tackle the existential threat of climate change. But one wonders whether they will be able marshal the resources of cooperation when they have failed to do so in the face of glaring danger of death precipitated by the coronavirus. Many of the delegates from the developing South will return home without much hope still gripped by the coronavirus pandemic. However, let’s keep hoping, who knows? Maybe this time humanity will learn!