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Three Ways the Coronavirus Is Shaping Sustainable Development

This pandemic and the global recovery from it will impact the future of sustainable development. Here are three key themes that are emerging.

By Richard Florizone on March 30, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis. Efforts to contain the virus and support those directly impacted are of utmost importance. At IISD, that means our first focus has been on the health and safety of our staff and our own effort to flatten the curve.

As leaders, it is also our responsibility to look ahead and assess how the pandemic and the global recovery from it will impact the future of sustainable development.

Our views are shaped by IISD’s threefold mission to advance a stable climate, sustainable resource development, and fair economies. From this perspective, three themes are emerging:

  1. Resilience is essential. It has been heartbreaking to see lives risked due to global shortages of critical medical and safety equipment, including masks worth less than a dollar. This lack of planning and preparation for the outbreak has starkly demonstrated the importance of resilience: the ability for human systems to anticipate, cope, and adapt. Resilience is also critical to how the world responds to climate change, where further temperature increases are now nearly certain. Our communities and institutions must succeed in planning for and adapting to climate change or risk further heartbreak and tragedy.
  2. Stimulus must be sustainable. Governments around the world are racing to implement economic stimulus and support packages to keep individuals, businesses, and economies afloat.  While supporting their urgent implementation, we must ensure that these measures pave the way to a more sustainable economy and do not lock us further into a high-carbon future. Periods of high unemployment and low interest rates are the right time for new low-carbon investments and infrastructure, including the kind required to support the transition to clean energy.
  3. Inequality is magnified. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented global shock that magnifies the impact of inequality, hitting the poor the hardest. In developed countries, frontline workers in the service economy are among the most exposed to the virus and the least able to absorb its financial impact. And the hardest hit will be the poor in developing countries, where already-struggling workers will not have the benefit of social safety nets and stimulus packages. The G7 and G20 must immediately help these countries to finance the flattening of the pandemic curve. Longer term, we must redouble efforts to foster sustainable economic systems, including fair trade and investment.

All three of these themes are closely connected to IISD’s work on climate, sustainable resource development, and fair economies. In addition, their scale and complexity demand that we continue to act together to achieve sustainable development. Expect to hear more from our expert staff and associates on each of these and other emerging topics in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I sincerely hope you and yours are safe in this challenging and uncertain time. Together, we can navigate this crisis and build a better, more sustainable world.

How else will sustainability be shaped, and how should IISD and others respond? Join the conversation on Twitter at @IISD_news and @IISD_Pres.