In a matter of months, the COVID-19 pandemic has induced radical societal change, a sense of urgency, and the need for coordinated international action.
In the session that we held on May 11th, the last of three series cycles (‘The day before’, ‘The year after’ and this one ‘ The decade after’), we explored how we can create the same sense of urgency and levels of coordinated action to address the climate crisis and sustainable development. How do we create public demand for a more sustainable future to ensure that we do not return to business as usual? Will the COVID-19 pandemic teach us any lessons on addressing social and economic inequalities?
The session was hosted by Gonzalo Fanjul, Policy Director at ISGlobal.
For this seminar, we had the opportunity to listen to an introduction by Céline Charveriat, executive director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP); to Eeva Furman, director of the Environmental Policy Centre and part of the lead group of SYKE; Christos Zografos, Ramón y Cajal Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona; and Mauricio L. Barreto, Director of the Center for Data and Knowledge Integration for Health (Cidacs), Fiocruz FIO Cruz in Brazil.
Céline Charveriat, from the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), called for 3 axes of sustainable equity in Europe in the next decade: intra-country equity; inter-country equity and inter-generational equity.
According to Eeva Furman (Director of the Environmental Policy Centre, SYKE), the report ‘The future is now’ (September, 2019) already showed a worrying result: the progress towards the SDG is not taking place. Now, what is specially alarming is that there are four dangerous trends which are really threatening the agenda: rising inequalities, biodiversity loss, climate change and the growing amount of waste. And now we have the COVID-19 which has come on top of all. Will we be able to speed up the process?
She identified four lessons that have been learned from the Covid-19 crisis:
- The interlinkages of issues and actions became visible.
- The world is highly interconnected. The fragility of the society is becoming very clear.
- Many actors cause sustainability and many affect us not being able to deal with it in a sustainable way. New populist agendas are appearing as a result of the crisis.
- The key systems need to be transformed and shared.
We need to push sustainability forwards and we need to better understand the human-nature connection.
Until now, our societies have been an efficiency driven business model. Now we are pushed to see that the fragility of the current system requires us to move towards a resilience driven business model. All of it starts with education.
In Chirstos Zografos‘s words, it is important to highlight “the positive” that the pandemic has brought us. For example, it made visible the importance of care: elderly or vulnerable people, children, etc. The pandemic could serve as an opportunity, as the writer George Monbiot quotes “this virus has turned us into caring neighbors’’.
“A vital priority for the decade after is to extend care from individual bodies to what allows them to exist: relationships, ecosystems and the whole planet”. (by Non Una Di Meno Roma, 2020)
But, for this to make any sense, it must go hand in hand with a massive and drastic reduction of privilege, which sits at the center of inequality: thinking of the decade after, is it not time to think more carefully about privilege and its intersection with health and global environmental emergencies?
According to Mauricio Barreto, inequality is generally seen as a country problem. However, the latest discussions between economists and public health sociologists assert that inequality is a global problem: the country perspective has blinded public capacity to understand inequality as a global issue.
Mauricio defined some starting points on the pandemic, including the fact that the pandemic was not a surprise, that the neoliberal policies have been dismantling health systems and social protection, and that we have a far too weak Global Health Governance to deal with complex problems like this pandemic.
An important issue that he pointed out was the rediscovery of COVID-19 as a socially patterned disease. In other words, COVID-19 pandemic has made visible the links to the social, political and economic systems that we have recreated for ourselves and our health.
As a result, the unacceptable health inequities within and between countries cannot be addressed within the health sector, or at the national level alone. They require global political solutions.
For Mauricio this pandemic is a clear call for an essential debate about the ways to reach a more egalitarian and ecologically sustainable society.
How the COVID pandemic can accelerate progress towards SDGs.
The potential for social movements and collective action.
Questions and answers
Christos Zografos (Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona) and Eeva Furman (Environmental Policy Centre of the Finnish Environment Institute) answered some of the questions asked by the public before and during the session.