Invisible threat and a rare opportunity

Photo by Pixabay

For the first time in several decades, people in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal were able to get a rare glimpse of Mount Everest. Lower air pollution levels due to the pandemic allowed the smog to clear to reveal the magnificent peaks of Mount Kang Nachugo, Mount Everest and Mount Chobutse. 

In April this year, climate researchers estimated that daily global carbon emissions level were 17% lower compared to the same period in 2019. The International Energy Agency estimates that 2020 carbon emissions will be lower by 8% as a result of Covid-19 restrictions. Such an annual drop in emissions has not been seen since World War II. These are indeed good news for the planet. Now stay tuned for the challenges…

A UN report last year indicated that global emissions need to fall around 8% every year from 2020 to 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Cynics might say the world needs a pandemic-type event every few years to jolt policymakers and businesses to take action on climate change.   

Researchers at King’s College London found that falling incomes, as a result of the pandemic, could push 80 million to 580 million people into poverty, depending on the size of the income contractions. That would effectively wipe out several decades of progress against poverty.

I mention these extreme outcomes to illustrate the challenging tradeoffs that society must make. Upon reflection, I find that ‘society’ is a nebulous concept. There is no homogeneous society. I should perhaps say the tradeoffs that individual leaders must consider. This realisation then leads me to ask questions about the type of leadership we are observing today.

Collectively, the developed economies have found creative ways to channel trillions of dollars into the pandemic fight. I am curious, as are many others, as to what factors led to this outcome? The immediacy of the invisible threat and the survival of humanity come to mind. Yet, I believe leadership played a crucial role in delivering this result. Indeed some future studies will surely explore which leaders did well and which ones did poorly during this crisis. And importantly, the question remains as to why a similar level of leadership( and funds) does not exist to pursue the sustainable development of our economies.

Much has been written on the opportunities presented by the current Covid-19 pandemic to steer the trajectory of economic growth towards development that is consistent with the permissible planetary boundaries. Let us build back better is the chorus we hear. This chorus, I suspect, resonates with millions of people around the world. However, everyone should raise their game; from individual consumers to businesses and governments. Otherwise, there is a good chance that once this episodic crisis is over, we will revert to business as usual and miss a rare opportunity for meaningful change.