The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the world severely, causing suffering to millions of people. While the world is trying to tackle the pandemic, the global warming is ticking along. During the first 6 months of 2020 the level of carbon dioxide in the air exceeded 410 ppm, highest levels in 3 million years, as pointed out by a new multi-agency report launched in September by UN Secretary-General (United in Science 2020).
Similar to the history of pandemics that has been known for centuries, the first evidence on the warming effect of the atmosphere on the earth by the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide was presented by the chemist Svante Arrhenius in the Philosophical Magazine about 125 years ago. The collected scientific knowledge today concerning both pandemics and climate conditions is convincing, and yet we are not taking action accordingly to work more with preventive strategies.
Now is the opportunity to draw upon this crisis to make strong and substantial efforts for the climate and environment megatrends. The opportunity is there. Given that governments globally have raised the incredible sum of 10 trillion dollars for the recovery of COVID-19 (IMF) in a very short time, it should be possible to make substantial impact on the climate crisis, ensuring that countries make efforts to invest in “a green recovery”, speeding up the process of reaching targets in the Paris agreement and the 2030 Agenda. This will need strong governance at all levels, from small communities to the UN and especially the WHO. Member states need to step-up and provide more financial support and empowering the WHO. With the new administration in the US we foresee the country not only staying in the WHO but also returning to the Paris agreement.
In the light of recovering from the corona crisis and making investments in a green recovery, clearly, both business and politicians have a tremendous responsibility to work together for the common good, spending money in the realm of solidarity, justice and ethics. Positive indications are coming from the European Commission, which will increase their ambition to reduce emissions according to the European Green Deal; the environmental committee of the European Parliament voted for a 60 percent reduction to 2030, and according to the committee members a decision clearly related to “Fridays for future” movement with their portal figure, Greta Thunberg.
Pandemics are just one of a number of challenging megatrends that require both interdisciplinary and multilevel collaboration. We are in the midst of a “climate and environment pandemic” calling for joint coordination. The need to identify the optimal ways for collaboration is essential.
The syndemics model of health focuses on the biosocial complex, which consists of interacting, co-present, or sequential diseases and the social and environmental factors that promote and enhance the negative effects of disease interaction. An excellent example of such a model was published early 2019focusing on three “pandemics – obesity, under-nutrition, and climate change affecting most people in every country and region worldwide (Swinburn et al 2019). This syndemic approach forms systems thinking encompassing factors with multidimensional perspective important for climate, environment and health outcome similar to SDG interlinkages identifying synergies and barriers.
When in 2018–2019 World Economic Forum presented Global Risk Perception Survey that 5 environmental factors were on the top 10 lists of both likelihood and impact, similar to many earlier years as well (The Global Risks Report 2019), clearly demonstrating the urgency of tackling the challenges of the climate and environmental crisis. In a new survey, presenting and 18-month view ahead of what at risk in a post-COVID world, performed by World Economic Forum, released in June 2020, environmental issues were ranked low, compared to the top 10 factors which were economic factors. Although the limited time frame of 18 months into the future, it gives clear and unfortunate signals of threatening the progress of climate action.
The pandemic and the clouds on the horizon are forcing us to tackle problems and at the same time forcing us to be creative and innovative. Unequivocally, that creates a constructive way forward to help solving the prevailing global challenges.