Global battle against coronavirus could help us fight climate change

23May 2020
The Guardian
Global battle against coronavirus could help us fight climate change

An invisible virus has made our individual actions more visible than ever - and revealed our true power to face societal crises beyond COVID-19.

As people around the world work together to flatten the curve of COVID-19, the outsize roles we play in Earth’s natural system have become clear as never before. Billions of humans can now see how they are interconnected, working together to slow the spread of a lethal virus through their individual actions. Within this experience, if we are successful, lies the potential lesson we need not just to stop the worst projections for COVID-19, but to address other pressing societal challenges, including climate change.

A new strain of coronavirus, COVID 19, is spreading around the world, causing deaths and major disruption to the global economy.

Responding to this crisis requires global cooperation among governments, international organisations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the international organization for public-private cooperation.

The Forum has created the COVID Action Platform, a global platform to convene the business community for collective action, protect people’s livelihoods and facilitate business continuity, and mobilize support for the COVID-19 response. The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organisation and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organisation, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at the Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

This dawning sense of individual impact in an interconnected world - what has been called, systems thinking - is in many ways the true story we’ve long avoided acknowledging. We’ve gotten by for hundreds, even thousands of years, obfuscating the cost of the destruction of nature as an externality of economic progress, hardly considering the debt accruing on the system that hosts the global economy itself: Earth. It’s a line of thinking easy enough to believe.

While environmental pollution and massive inefficiencies like food waste have long been written off as externalities in our economic system, COVID-19 awakens us to an alternative, truer reality: each of us in our home ecosystems is part of an interconnected system that we have the power to change. It’s a transformative narrative that accomplishes what no isolated and episodic story of environmental damage, from melting glaciers to fire storms, could ever do. Instead, we’re all attentively following a fast-moving virus, piecing together information on how we can best defend ourselves and protect our neighbors, fellow citizens and the world itself from the worst-case scenarios. In a story with no predetermined ending, we all have a role to play that is empowering as much as it is restraining. The virus is raging, but we all can help stop it. When’s the last time you felt you could freeze a glacier, or actually help extinguish a forest fire? What we do here – and what we learn - could save lives and help us all endure and thrive as individuals, as communities, as a species.