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28 July 2020 - News

Record temperatures and COVID-19 are symptoms of planetary fever, aid agency warns: Analysis shows a dramatic decline in public online conversations about the climate in Asia

Record-breaking temperatures and COVID-19 are both warnings that humanity must reset its relationship with nature and address the climate crisis, or face potentially deadlier pandemics and disasters, warned Save the Children, climate scientists, and youth activists on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has largely buried public concern and discussions in Asia-Pacific and worldwide about the climate emergency, according to new analysis by Save the Children, even though global heating remains the number one threat to the region’s societies and their children, the aid agency said.

2020 is on course to be one of the top two warmest years in 141 years of temperature records. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States reports that the first half of 2020 was the second warmest January-June period on record. This was partly driven by record heat in Siberia in northern Asia, where average temperatures in June were more than 5°C above normal.

“The world has a fever. We need to apply the cure fast,” said Save the Children’s Asia Regional Director, Hassan Noor. “Otherwise, today’s children will inherit a planet on fire: a world in which pandemics are a constant threat and their lives are blighted by a climate crisis they did not create.”

Natural disasters, like floods and droughts happening simultaneously in different parts of Afghanistan are intensifying as a result of global warming and negatively affecting millions of people in Afghanistan, including through the destruction of arable land. Sea level rise alone means that by 2050, many of Asia-Pacific’s coastal megacities and small island nations could suffer once-in-a-century extreme weather events every year, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“Asia-Pacific is already the world’s most disaster-prone region. Unless we act fast, the climate crisis will make catastrophe a way of life for hundreds of millions of people in the region,” said Professor Benjamin Horton, Director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore and a member of the IPCC.

Save the Children’s analysis of social media finds the number of public conversations about climate, which steadily rose during 2019, declined sharply in 2020 when COVID-19 spread across Asia-Pacific and beyond, dominating media coverage and causing many climate-related conferences and demonstrations – such as the school strikes that thousands of children in the region and elsewhere staged in 2019 – to be cancelled.

By July 2020, public online discussions about climate in Asia-Pacific had halved compared to the same time last year (based on an analysis of 17 countries). Globally, public online discussions about climate between April and June this year plummeted by a staggering 70 percent compared to the same period last year.

But governments should not assume climate crisis was no longer a public concern, said Save the Children. Marking World Nature Conservation Day, the world’s biggest independent child-focused agency vowed to support calls by young people to reverse decades of damage to the environment.

“Young climate activists have warned us that humanity was abusing nature beyond its limits. Now we’re paying the price for ignoring their warnings. But we want to say – ‘We hear you’. That’s why Save the Children is supporting a new campaign by young people in Afghanistan and across Asia-Pacific to make sure their concerns are heard loud and clear,” added Hassan Noor.

“Air pollution is one of the biggest climate change issues that children face in parts of Afghanistan,” said 11-year-old Sharif. “In winters there is a lot of air pollution because of the amount of coal burned and in summers and falls there is a lot of car and dust pollution. Many of my friends and I have suffered from asthma and pneumonia caused by air pollution.”

According to recent research by Save the Children, pneumonia is a threat to 160,000 children under the age of five in Afghanistan for the next decade and air pollution bears a heavy responsibility for this situation. According to the State of Global Air, more than 26,000 Afghan deaths could be attributed to pollution in 2017. In parts of Afghanistan, the air is deadlier than the conflict. While further investment in Afghanistan’s many basic service systems are critical, including health and education, so is addressing pollution across the country.

Studies show that pandemics caused by viruses of animal origin are becoming more frequent, largely because of human activities, such as deforestation and pollution, that disrupt wildlife habitats and force animals and insects into contact with people. Climate change is increasing such disruptions.

“But COVID-19 recovery plans provide a huge opportunity to reduce the risks of both pandemics and climate disasters,” added Hassan Noor. “While supporting jobs and growth, COVID-19 recovery plans should accelerate the shift to less polluting low-carbon economies. Industries receiving public funds should make strong, enforceable pledges to green their operations. More investment is also needed to protect vulnerable communities from future crises.”


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  • Save the Children’s social media analysis is based on public posts mentioning climate change and related keywords such as “climate crisis”, “climate emergency”, “global warming”, “global heating”. For the Asia-Pacific analysis, words have been translated in 9 languages (English, Chinese, Hindi, Thai, Tagalog, Burmese, Bengali, Vietnamese, Khmer, Bahasa) and the search covered 17 countries in Asia-Pacific using Digimind Historical Search. The time periods taken into account were February to June 2019 and February to June 2020.
  • Digimind Historical Search covers Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Forums, Newspapers, Pinterest, Naver, Reddit, Weibo, Tumblr and Review websites. The 17 countries in Asia-Pacific are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Korea, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam.
  • Numerous scientific studies have found a link between disruptions to ecosystems and wildlife habits, and a rise in the number of pandemics resulting from the transmission of viruses of animal origin to humans. Such disruptions force animals and insects to move or migrate, causing them to interact more with humans. For an example of a recent study, see Global shifts in mammalian population trends reveal key predictors of virus spill over risk, April 2020, by Christine K. Johnson, Peta L. Hitchens, Pranav S. Pandit, Julie Rushmore, Tierra Smiley Evans, Cristin C. W. Young and Megan M. Doyle.
  • Factors disrupting ecosystems include human activities such as deforestation and pollution of air, land and water, the wildlife trade, as changes in temperature and rainfall patters caused by global warming, which itself is driven by human activity especially the use of carbon-emitting fossil fuels. Other factors increasing the risk of pandemics include greater human population numbers and density, and increased international travel.
  • For more information on Save the Children’s research regarding pneumonia, refer to the  Afghanistan press release: “160,000 Children in Afghanistan Could Die in the Next Decade Unless More is Done to Tackle Pneumonia”