The World Economic Forum has set out some thoughts and ideas on how COVID-19 might help us respond to climate change. In recovering from COVID-19 and addressing the challenges posed by climate change WEF believe that we cannot simply focus on short-term fixes. To address this threat requires us taking a long term view.
A common theme that comes out from the WEF’s assessment is the need for international collaboration and co-operation. There is clearly a risk of nationalist responses to the global problems we are will all be facing. We need international statesmen and leadership at a time when it has been conspicuous by its absence. The White House has lead an administration that has dismantled existing treaties, disengaged with traditional allies and resorted to nationalist policies of “Make America Great Again”. The Presidential Election in November (assuming it goes ahead) suddenly becomes even more important for everyone on this planet, not just Americans.
So what do we need to do?
The WEF believes that the pandemic highlights five actions which we need to take if we are to address the global climate change crisis. I have summarized these below and set out my initial thoughts and observations and what this means for businesses, leaders and for all of us as global citizens sharing this planet.
Governments have known about the risks of a pandemic for years and yet as an international community we have not developed a co-ordinated response. The WHO has to a large extent been somewhat sidelined. Each government has taken its own approach to addressing the COVID-19 threat. This has been a wake-up call and almost a rehearsal for the global climate change challenge that is coming our way. We are now much better aware of the vulnerabilities we face to pandemics or climate related disasters. The fragility of our economic ecosystems has been laid bare. We need to learn from this so that we can be better prepared in the future at the government, business and community level.
Listen to Global Perspectives
WEF note that we are all in this together and there should be a growing understanding that we are inherently connected in vastly different geogrpahies and circumstances. If no man is an island is true, the same applies for countries, even those which are indeed islands! Isolationist policies are not going to be able to protect our populations from actions by others in other parts of the world. Pandemics and climate change do not recognize national boundaries so attempting to disengage from the international community will be the equivalent of burying one’s head in the sand.
We will all need to work together and this is where international leadership and collaboration will become an absolute necessity. This will pose huge challenges as we deal with international inequality. If we are to successfully address the threats form climate change then isolationist policies are not an option.
Make People the Top Priority
What has been evident around the world has been the large scale response to the global crisis at national and community levels. There has been a wave of compassion and proactivity to protect vulnerable members of our community. Our lives have been disrupted as the world’s population has come under “lockdown” regimes to varying degrees. We now have a clear picture and understanding of key workers in our community. We shouldn’t have been surprised. When the bankers in Dublin went on strike for a few months a number of years ago, no one noticed. When the rubbish collectors in Dublin went on strike, the city came to its knees in days.
What COVID-19 has also highlighted is that when we have to, we can change and we can change quite drastically.
Its worth remembering too under this lesson that businesses and governments are there to serve the people. Businesses are not just there to make a profit – of course this is important. Profits are to businesses, what breathing is to life – absolutely critical. But in the same way that we don’t live simply to breath, businesses are there for more than just making a profit. They should exist for some grander and more noble purpose surely? Conscious capitalism has to become even more widely adopted so that employees, customers, the environment and society become valued stakeholders, just like investors.
WEF also argue that the pandemic has highlighted the value of knowledge. For the past decade or so there has been a growing trend towards the demise of experts. With access to the internet and proliferation of information and misinformation we all are able to research any subject we want and can usually find a source to support our own view. If we have learnt anything from this terrible crisis though it is that we need to listen to experts in all fields if we are to address climate change.
With trust however comes responsibility and transparency. Governments must become more open and transparent. Secrecy is not granted through the acquisition of power. Secrecy is granted through deserving and earning trust. Governements and businesses both need to embrace openness and transparency and that will increase the public’s trust in experts.
Make a Cultural Shift
WEF point out that many of the changes we have seen as part of the COVID-19 response are similar to the changes we need to address climate change. It has not required new technology just changes in thinking and behaviour. No one eight weeks ago would have anticipated the decline in air travel that we have witnessed. It is now a rare event to see planes in the skies above us. COVID-19 has been the ultimate disruptor and now many of us are becoming far more proficient and comfortable using technology. One wonders whether we actually needed the number of flights we had in the first place. We have seen car usage fall and pedestrians and cyclists have taken over our streets. We are consuming far less and simply concentrating on our essential needs. It’s not going to be easy, but we can do this.
We have sufficient tools in the tool box if we are to address the challenges of climate change. The challenge is whether there is a political and public will to be proactive and learn from COVID-19.
I am reminded of Teddy Roosevelt’s words:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
We all as individuals, members of businesses and members of our community and as part of our common humanity, have a responsibility to future generations to step into the arena, marr our faces with dust, sweat and blood and strive valiantly and even if we fail, at least fail while daring greatly.