Like many of you around the globe, I have been adjusting with the exigencies of the spread of COVID-19, both personally and professionally. The crisis is rejuvenating human traits and values from various angles. Self-care, life balance, personal development, helping others, and considering the environment are just a few of many values and principles that are boiling down these days.
Let’s take environmental values as an example with the several statements issued lately about the potential impact of Coronavirus on some of the hot green issues of today, Climate Change and Biodiversity. A few questions come to mind – though I don’t claim to know the answers for: is COVID-19 becoming the nature’s savior from air pollution and GHG emissions? Have we – humans – brought in Coronavirus by disrupting the ecosystems? Are there any lessons from the Coronavirus era that can guide human development in its new form?
A few days ago, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Inger Andersen, said that humanity was placing too many pressures on the natural world with damaging consequences, and warned that failing to take care of the planet meant not taking care of ourselves. She also highlighted that never before have so many opportunities existed for pathogens to pass from wild and domestic animals to people, noting that 75% of all emerging infectious diseases come from wildlife. Within the same context, climate scientists urged nations to act now and prepare for a risky future of extreme climate change consequences.
Let’s try to imagine the world post COVID-19, regardless of when that is going to be. Economies and financial institutions are already doing the math, and the picture doesn’t look good. The IMF recognized that the coronavirus crisis will plunge the world economy into recession, and the World Bank and IFC’s Boards of Directors approved an increased $14 billion package of fast-track financing to assist companies and countries in their efforts to prevent, detect and respond to the rapid spread of COVID-19.
Countries are taking drastic economic relief measures during the crisis and would be in severe need for more aggressive economic recovery plans after this is all over. People, like us Jordanians – who have been put as a top priority by our leadership and government during the crisis; are keen to return this back through engaging in local economic development projects and enterprises.
A new set of questions arise: how would emerging economies survive another recession? How logical would it be to go back to reports and studies from the pre-Coronavirus era to plan for the future? Would human development, job creation and social security still mean the same as they do now? And, should the world expect another crisis due to the ignorance and/or lack of action by decision-makers?
Climate change and biodegradation might not be the most appealing headlines to many, nowadays. Nevertheless, no one would deny that the past couple of years were not easy on people and governments. Buildings, infrastructure, basic services and people’s health and safety; were not at their best. The direct and indirect impact of climate change on economies and communities is becoming more visible, while action is not as visible despite the relatively increased attention in some regions.
In Jordan, for example, we lost lives, and many are suffering the consequences of floods and droughts. Such impacts are magnified by the increased population (hosted refugees), unemployment and the challenging water and energy supplies. We have taken serious steps to strengthen clean energy penetration but with huge dependence on across-borders collaboration.
One more set of questions comes up: would the global transition towards clean energy be hindered by Coronavirus crisis? Would the Paris Agreement targets need to be adjusted to reflect further delay in action? Could climate financing and green economy form a feasible solution to recover the suffering economies and create more humane economic development plans?
Three possible takeaways from Coronavirus experience – at least from my own perspective; the first is that yes, the world smells, looks, and feels more clean, which means a few measures can make a difference when it comes to the environment; the second takeaway is that it might be too late to intervene once the impact has arrived; and last but not least, one should realize that challenges will continue to become more complex and interrelated so, we cannot stop acting on a problem just because another one has just emerged. Delaying action on any human development challenge is a recipe for crisis.
Unconventional challenges should inspire unconventional solutions. Scientists from all disciplines are called upon today as the most knowledgeable and credible to not only analyze and solve today’s problems; but more importantly to anticipate the future with all its complexity, and to guide our human development plans towards a more livable planet.