With COVID-19 devastating the Indian state of Maharashtra, where he grew up, Bloomberg Green columnist Akshat Rathi is pointing to good governance as a factor that is mitigating the impact of the pandemic in some countries, and could do the same for the climate crisis.
The grim news from Maharashtra has been very hard, Rathi writes, and “no one can be sure how much devastation the current wave of infections will leave behind”. But “a few things are already clear. The Indian government did not act on advice that its own scientific team provided in early March, according to a Reuters investigation. Instead the Bhartiya Janata Party, represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, organized political rallies in the state of West Bengal. It also allowed millions of Hindus to attend the weeks-long Kumbh Mela religious festival. Even today, as countries from around the world have sent life-saving equipment and medicine, much of it appears to be sitting in the airport in New Delhi waiting to be distributed.”
Notwithstanding the limited resources and poor infrastructure that “are crippling India’s response at the peak of infections,” he adds, better governance would have made a difference.
“An individual can only go so far to protect themselves from something like COVID. People actually need to be supported by an enabling state,” Lancaster University professor Rebecca Willis told Rathi. “The same is true for climate.”
Rathi points to a handful of lower- and middle-income countries like Thailand, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Togo, Malaysia, Vietnam, and China that have scored higher on various COVID performance indices than wealthier countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. The difference, he says, is effective leadership toward mission-oriented government.
To be sure, the two global emergencies “are different beasts,” Rathi says. “With the pandemic, governments have had to step in to impose immediate restrictions and provide financial help. It’s a big intervention on a short time scale. When it comes to global warming, governments will need to ensure that laws and incentives are in place that will enable people and companies to cut emissions over decades. That’s a smaller intervention over a longer time scale.”
But at least one important lesson transfers neatly from one crisis to the other: whether the focus is on the pandemic or climate, “money alone isn’t enough,” he writes. “What matters more is how systems are put in place, preparations against obvious risks are made, and how effective governments are at convincing their populace to respond.”