The speed and scope of the covid-19 outbreak surprised and halted the globe, as had happened many times earlier, but in a much bigger way. The corona regime revealed that the existing development approach and production environment have congenial environment for transformation and emergence of new diseases, and carrying on the existing approach and process would mean taking the humanity closer to the destruction. Thus, it seems logical to argue that the responses to the covid-19 crisis and the recovery drive should not be limited to containing the spread of the virus only; rather it is important for the policy makers to comprehend the deep rooted causes of the current destruction and design recovery drive by respecting the 'mother nature'. It is proven over and over again that nature bites back. If not addressed, the situation forces, and would force us to do so by scripting another even graver 'Corona Episode' in near future.
The pandemic is a reminder of the intimate and delicate relationship between people and the planet. UNEP finds, there are about 8.0 million species of life on the earth, of which humans are just one. Of these, an estimated 1.7 million unidentified viruses, are recognised as the type that may infect people, existing in mammals and water birds; and any one of these could be transferred to humans, if preventative measures are not undertaken immediately. While this relationship is complex and context-dependent, the general trend is that habitat loss increases the likelihood that species carrying potential viruses are in close proximity to people. Climate change is another key force which in the longer term is likely to be a growing driver of the emergence of zoonotic disease outbreaks. The most fundamental way to protect ourselves from these zoonotic diseases is to prevent destruction of nature, where ecosystems are healthy and biodiverse, they are resilient, adaptable and help to regulate diseases. To help prevent the next pandemic, it is essential to transform human's relationship with nature. This is crucial because ecosystems in nature function similarly to the human body: if there is diverse species and space for healthy animal populations- they are more resistant to disease, and thus taking care of nature means taking care of human society.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 scenario brought in even more environmental disruption in certain fronts. Poaching and deforestation have increased since Covid-19 restrictions went into effect, while bush meat and ivory poaching incidents have become more frequent in Africa; Amazonian deforestation in Brazil has reached a nine-year high since the pandemic began; these destruction of nature could cause future animal-borne disease outbreaks. Another unpleasant truth is that the corona crisis is interrupting the ongoing green and sustainable development agenda like the implementation efforts of the UN (United Nations) Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs.
Considering the threat of attaining UN SDGs and 2030 Agenda, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reminds us that everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics and climate change. He states that 'the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis must lead to a different economy.' Reconciliation of public policy and green growth or pursuing economic development in an environmentally sustainable manner - is crucial for that recovery process. In another recent Statement, the UNEP Executive Director terms Covid-19 as the strongest warning of the planet to date that humanity must change and thus it is important to respond through supporting nations and partners to 'build back better' - through stronger science, policies that back a healthier planet and more green investments. The Covid-19 pandemic is a catastrophe that should help humanity realise and achieve by not overexploiting the natural world rather pandemic solutions have to be green solutions for sustainability.
In the aftermath of the global Covid-19 pandemic, governments are mobilising significant funds to reinvigorate their economies; and various research activities based on surveys and evidences suggest that spending this money on climate-friendly green policy ventures could not only help environmental protection, but also offer the best economic returns. WHO prescribes for a healthy, green recovery and notes that overall plans for post-Covid-19 recovery, and specifically plans to reduce the risk of future epidemics, need to go further upstream than early detection and control of disease outbreaks. It is crucial to lessen impact on the environment, so as to reduce the risk at source. Investment in healthier environments for health protection, environmental regulation, and ensuring that health systems are climate resilient, and are essential guard against future disaster; and offers some of the best returns for society. Financial reform is needed to recover from Covid-19, and a good place to start is by removing fossil fuel subsidies.
Reaffirming the UN's commitment to promote harmony with nature, the President of the UN General Assembly notes that humanity is not separate from the world around us…..'in this decade of action and delivery to implement the SDGs…we must work together to protect our planet and ecosystems, which affect every aspect of human life'. He proposes six ways to help the climate covering: climate related action to shape the recovery; delivering new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition; rescuing business needs to be tied to achieving green jobs and sustainable growth; fiscal firepower must drive a shift from the grey to green economy; ending fossil fuel subsidies and polluters must pay for their contamination and public funds; shifting fiscal firepower from the grey to green economy. Maintaining similar tone, United Nations' Climate Body suggested nations to green their recovery packages and shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, safe and more resilient. Several studies favored energy efficient measures alongside public health ventures as part of recovery packages.
Researchers and academicians are strongly coming forward in favour of green policy initiatives in many instances. The 'COP26 Universities Network' has drawn on certain research and analyses to create a briefing for policymakers outlining a path to net-zero emissions economic recovery from Covid-19. The network, a growing group of more than 30 UK-based universities, including the University of Cambridge, has been formed to help climate change outcomes at the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow and beyond. They have put together a briefing document that identifies nine fiscal recovery policies that promise to bring both short-term high economic impact and long-term structural change to meet climate goals. They suggested for reshaping the national and global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a way that supports the response to climate change and other environmental threats and emphasised on: renewable energy; reducing industrial emissions through carbon capture and storage; investment in broadband internet to increase coverage; and electric vehicles and nature-based solutions.
Recently a joint assessment by the renowned economist Joseph Stiglitz and climate economist Nicholas Stern prescribes for green policy initiatives for recovering from the covid-19 crisis. Based on a survey outcome and lessons of the 2008 crisis, they conclude that green projects/fiscal policy types create more jobs, higher short term return per currency unit spend and lead to long term cost savings, by comparison with traditional fiscal stimulus. In this context, the desired policy interventions of the study include, building efficiency retrofit spending; clean research and development spending; natural capital investment for ecosystem resilience and regeneration; and investment in education and training to address immediate unemployment from Covid-19 alongside unemployment from de-carbonisation. For developing countries, rural support scheme spending, such as investment in sustainable agriculture, has been highly ranked.
However, a small section of optimistic group or policy makers may not bring much changes, rather collaborative efforts of all or major economies are needed at the global policy fronts. Optimum results of the green ventures and recovery measures would depend upon the collective efforts. Considering the devastating impact, governments and international entities need to act together now to ensure that economic recovery is aligned with climate and SDG commitments to protect, reboot and regenerate economies.
Dr Shah Md Ahsan Habib is Professor, Bangladesh Institute of Bank Management (BIBM).