It is a shame to waste a crisis. Our past is full of examples of political upheavals, economic crashes, military and terrorism threats and natural disasters. Those gave us a chance to reimagine and rebuild a better world, in bits and pieces. Covid-19 also gives us a huge opportunity, the biggest in our lifetime, to change things dramatically across the world for all of us.
It is a rare crisis that has impacted practically everyone, in varying degrees. The scale of disruption is like nothing we have seen before. Life has been interrupted by a common threat. By now we have all seen first hand how fragile our communities can be. As we try and contain the human, social and economic damage, we must also be conscious that the steps taken today will have far-reaching consequences in the years to come.
The past few weeks have seen a flurry of announcements made by Central Banks and governments that will help stabilise economies, protect livelihoods and improve public health. Although it is difficult to estimate the total stimulus, Reuters puts it at a humongous $15 trillion (for the G10 group of economies, including China, which is hard to figure).
It is a big number. Leaders (G20) have said that they will "do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic". The stimulus will be a combination of various measures -- tax, spending, loans, guarantees, monetary instruments, subsidies, policy changes and so on. Everyone is hoping to shake thing up, but the crucial question is -- how? Hopefully, the answer will incorporate a ‘green recovery’.
Blue skies and clean air are probably two of the more distinctive recalls of the lockdown phase. We have seen the numerous photos and videos of sparkling rivers, fish in the canals of Venice, a view of the Himalayas and lions lounging on the roads of South African safaris. Nature is impatient to reclaim the world. Since the massive slowdown, we have seen a visible difference -- not just on our screens, but also around us.
Just a few weeks ago, it was impossible for us to appreciate the extent of damage and the unsustainable side-effects of modern life. We really did not have anything real and tangible to compare. Now we do. The air feels better, the stars are visible. And for those who are still sceptical, there are remarkable ‘then and now’ satellite images to prove it. It is a glimpse into what is possible, and how it should be.
The world is fragmented and diverse. Different countries and geographies have their own challenges and agendas. Just look at the history of climate change negotiations - it is not an easy task to get everyone on board. However, the virus has the unique ability to unite us all towards a common goal.
Covid-19 reminds us of the fact that the earth is what we have in common. We can squabble over geographical boundaries, discriminate based on the colour of skin, what we eat, how we live, practice different customs and follow our own norms and culture. But we must not forget we are all connected. And not just to each other, but to our planet as well.
During a crisis, incentives and motivations both change. It challenges existing norms, lead to potential new collaborations, re-evaluates existing structures and creates new systems. Sometimes fear and public outcry after a crisis force bold and difficult decisions. Normally most leaders and populations tend to resist dramatic changes, but now they will be more receptive.
The slowdown was temporary, the respite will not last long. Lockdowns are easing, factories are reopening and life resuming, this is the right time to adopt measures that help us progress and prosper in harmony with our planet.
There are enough studies that prove investments in green technology give better returns, create jobs and result in greater cost savings over the long term. Policies must change, to help us move towards a low carbon future. The stimulus packages must push for investment in climate-ready infrastructure. There must be incentives for the industry to commit to sustainable business practices. There must be stringent guidelines for companies to incorporate safety and adhere to environmental health practices. There needs to be a rethinking on global mobility and supply chain management, a leading cause for emissions. Customer behaviour and preferences will hopefully change. This is our limited window of opportunity.
The decisions we make today will determine what lies ahead. It is up to us as individuals, corporations and governments to take ownership of the future. We must remember to recover and rebuild responsibly.
(Ekta Kumar is a writer, columnist, artist and works closely with the European Union on gender and civil rights-related issues.)