Sustainability Development in times of pandemic – Time for a Turnaround
There are several signs that the management of the world and its key stakeholders requires a turnaround. Global preparedness for major crises – despite the many institutions that exist – is not coordinated, transparent or effective and public health throughout the world is extremely vulnerable. Whatever and wherever the origin of this global virus – a severe acute respiratory syndrome or coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or Covid 19 – its manifestation and transmission have demonstrated a major shift in recognising what may be possible in terms of threats to the lives of many in different places – and the world as a whole. It is interesting that the human respiratory system is the main target. This has been placed at risk generally for our global population, especially over the last 30 years since key international environmental legal conventions were agreed in Rio de Janeiro. Then Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, a doctor and politician who is former director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the former prime minister of Norway— became known also as the mother of sustainability. She headed the Commission for Sustainable Development and coined the definition of sustainable development as follows:
“Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. (Brundtland Report, 1987)
According to Dr Brundtland, sustainability can change the patterns of development that have threatened the environment. Sadly, there has been the devastating decline in air quality in most jurisdictions worldwide due to ongoing environmental and climate change disregard, despite the wise voices of science as medicine, as well as philosophy and spiritual values or tenets. The pandemic has exposed – and continues to expose – so many weaknesses in the global human system and the unhealthy, flagrant lack of concern for the planet as a whole. It has exposed the critical danger of the growing social and economic inequalities, as well as climate inequalities, and has raised questions about the quality of the world’s leaders or leadership. There must be a rethink, a real turnaround.
Nowadays, several months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the disruption of our lives might still seem to be no more than a pause — global in scale and unprecedented but nonetheless a one off and temporary. Yet even now so many sectors are facing critical change. In a matter of months, the coronavirus has reset the clock on a long-term aviation boom that has been one of the major cultural and economic phenomena of the post War world. The explosion in air travel shrunk the planet, created jobs and hundreds of millions of first-time fliers. It dispersed families – rich and poor – over the world’s continents. Now almost all air travel is on hold and it is reported that airlines are slashing seat capacity by 70%. What will happen if, as indicated by some scientists, this pause lasts years and the impact changes the way of life in an ongoing manner? It has been suggested that even in the event of apparent elimination, SARS-CoV-2 surveillance should be maintained since a resurgence in contagion could be possible as late as 2024. What if there is no return to what people have considered to be normal life even when the pandemic is over? Normal is probably not the right word: what can we call normal ? We will certainly return to certain aspects of a way of life that we are more familiar with – there may be some fundamental changes, or more nuanced ones. The use of technology and digital solutions will accelerate and the reliance on traditional physical resources will change. This pandemic is likely to be more than just an interlude – it should herald a reset or turnaround, especially as more comparisons are made with the lack of preparedness for climate emergencies on a global scale.
A new era – post the pandemic – has been postulated regarding the human way of life generally. Greater transparency, fairness and simplification of our societies have been referred to. Indeed one of the side effects of Covid-19 is to expose human accumulation and wasteful lifestyle over decades, as well unsustainable complexity in the individual, political and economic spheres of life. Hectic, fast, busy – a cluttered schedule, home, calendar and living space in the so-called developed world. Excessive purchases, wasteful approaches which do not pay attention to the hierarchy of waste – reduce, reuse and recycle – without care or respect for the planet, lands or oceans. Over anxiety to fulfil perceived obligations without careful balance and prioritisation – with hard to manage calendars and often unnecessary travel for social or business commitments despite the digital age – whether for local, domestic or international trips.
The Covid-19 pandemic lockdown has caused immense disruption to many’s usual social and working lives. As individuals we can also simplify and prune our priorities while we deal with these challenging times. We can use the time to delve into our selves and our approach to our life, time and resources. We are being confronted with increasing questions and views as to how this pandemic will impact the sustainability of human priorities. Further, the impact of Covid-19 on business, including the impact on: nature-based solutions and the biodiversity agenda, energy transition, environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives, and on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) goals, as well as water supply risk – to mention a few examples.
At a time of crisis there can be the opportunity for more flexible approaches such as: adapting operations and supply chains as they shift to creating products that help communities; protecting public health and saving jobs; relying on collaboration and resilience to expand the clean energy market; and committing to create a more equitable world – a more inclusive and regenerative economy. Impact investing can be another priority. This is responsible investment which intentionally produces direct benefits for people and the planet. Institutions are now making investments that directly produce social and environmental impacts to go beyond ESG integration by rating companies for ESG compliance. Impact investing looks to anticipate the planet’s future needs and how to meet them. There is a growing demand for more ethical investments and investments that produce measurable results in addressing ESG criteria and advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs include microfinance, education, healthcare, community as well as Sustainability. Moreover, on the individual level, everything from nutrition or diet to healthcare and medicine more simplicity may be the trend as many will consider needs more than wants. Such a turnaround may mean that one day humanity may look back at the Covid-19 pause – when the usual pace of economic ‘development’ with so many negative repercussions was stopped – with gratitude. Perhaps once again there will be reconsideration of gross domestic product (GDP) to extend to green accounting to place value on the world’s resources.
It is timely- even overdue – to consider a global debate upon a positive turnaround that can be embarked upon. This can include appropriate values, standards and laws that are fit for purpose in a post pandemic era that reflect a more sustainable approach, turning the crisis into an opportunity to become more resilient. This turnaround can ensure positive change that can be a win-win for humanity and the planet as a whole. As an international environmental and risk management lawyer and adviser and as part of our activities at Adhyatmik Foundation (where I am Vice President – www.adhatmik.org) we are offering courses, sessions and tools for life and health management to enable a more sustainable future for individuals and organisations.
Dr Linda S Spedding
International Lawyer and Advisor