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3 Key Lessons From Covid-19 To Mitigate Our Next Crisis: Climate Change – Forbes

For the past two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact around the world, with long-term implications for the global economy and the way people live, and companies operate. During the initial Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020, many countries imposed lockdowns and implemented social distancing rules to show the spread of the virus. However, certain sectors and segments of the population suffered more from these measures than others, with lingering uncertainty about their future recovery. Later on, vaccine rollout allowed the primarily advanced nations to procure the initial supplies, which left more vulnerable countries waiting and having to manage the spread of the virus with the available means. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, inequality, since then, has grown, with some of the policy responses to the pandemic contributing to the widening of long-standing economic, racial and gender divides.

As countries evaluate their policies measures, the pandemic’s uneven socioeconomic impacts highlight the importance of developing more robust risk mitigation strategies to better manage future crises. In the near future, vaccine rollout and improved global uptake may lessen the severity of Covid-19, potentially allowing for a near-normal resumption of daily lives. But given the long-term challenge posed by the climate crisis, countries will need to apply lessons from the pandemic to mitigate the lasting impacts of global warming. In a series of interviews on key lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic, leading experts highlight that in order to tackle the climate crisis, countries will need to establish public trust through clear and transparent communication, build frameworks for innovative solutions and embed equity in resource distribution.

Build public trust through a clear and consistent messaging strategy

The World Health Organisation’s chief scientist, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, states in an interview with Bloomberg that building and retaining public trust in an evolving pandemic has been a significant challenge for decision-makers. She highlights that the delivery of critical information on the Covid-19 pandemic by health experts and governments could have been clearer and more consistent.

However, the ‘Infodemic’ caused false and misleading information to spread across social media. This is a problem that requires ongoing attention from scientists, health experts, and policymakers to produce scientific information at the right time and in the proper format for the public. In 2020, the University of Oxford’s working paper on the nexus of Covid-19 and climate change noted commonalities between the two issues: both rely on scientific findings and modelling assumptions to formulate rules, recommendations, and regulations amidst the challenges of an evolving situation and partisan polarisation in today’s media-driven landscape.

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To address these communication challenges and build public trust, Prativa Baral, epidemiologist and PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, says that “among the key learnings for scientists and health experts from Covid-19 has been the ways the public intakes and interacts with scientific information – or misinformation – from various media platforms. These platforms were built to foster engagement, which tends to attract certain types of information over others, irrespective of accuracy. As a result, the scientific community needs to get better at delivering information – accurately, concisely, and compassionately – to capture the attention of different segments of the population, and build long-term relationships between scientists and the public”.

Baral adds that, in order to highlight the impacts of global warming, “scientists, climate experts and policymakers should take the learnings from Covid-19 and work to develop a clear and consistent messaging strategy that constructively engages with the public through these platforms”. Additionally, she notes that “besides digital channels, the messaging strategy around climate change should also resort to grassroots leaders that engage with the local community through more personalised and constructive interactions”.

According to Mckinsey’s latest report on the net-zero transition, the economic and societal adjustments are expected to cause widespread changes that create new economic and employment opportunities but negatively impact workers in specific sectors and geographic regions. As a way of ensuring equity in the net-zero transition and buy-in from communities, Baral says, “climate change’s impact is going to felt at the local level. For these reasons, community leaders and decision-makers should proactively collaborate with communities to address concerns and be transparent about measures being implemented to create new jobs and the development of transition-related employment training”. Baral believes that through clear communications “public trust on the need for effective strategies against an evolving climate crisis can be built and mitigate the potential of misinformation eroding efforts in the coming years”.

Enable frameworks to support the development of innovative solutions

The sharing of clinical healthcare data and insights into the different approaches adopted by countries have been crucial in the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the unprecedented socioeconomic crisis it has triggered. Aided by government funding and a framework for innovation, scientists and researchers have worked collaboratively to produce breakthroughs and fast-tracked vaccine development. Likewise, insights into the global impacts of climate change and the development of relevant technological solutions are expected to be crucial in achieving net-zero goals by 2050.

Yet, despite the scientific consensus on climate change and the potential economic benefits from green growth, the transition to a low-carbon economy has not fully followed suit, mainly due to the risks and commercial aspects of adopting clean technologies. To accelerate the adoption of cleantech solutions and de-risk some of the barriers impeding it, Carol-Ann Brown, president of The Delphi Group, states that, “Covid-19 showcased ways the urgency to devise a solution accelerated the development of vaccines, spurred by guaranteed purchases by governments around the world. To address climate change—which requires more varied and customised solutions—governments, corporations, and communities all need to act with urgency today to achieve the long-term sustainable growth opportunities that will arise from a net-zero future”.

However, inducing sufficient demand for new cleantech solutions requires structural changes in the economy. The International Energy Agency (IEA) highlights the complex and iterative process needed for technological innovation to occur; this process requires a number of key stakeholders to collaborate constructively over time.

For these reasons, Brown notes, “Increased expectations for carbon disclosure can support the business case for scaling investment in cleantech solutions as a means of addressing climate change”. As a result of increasing coverage and quality to corporate climate disclosure, Brown says, “Governments, corporations and communities-at-large would have a clearer picture of how individual projects and investments can support economy-wide efforts to decarbonise at the pace that is required to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change. This will also spur a thriving cleantech sector with the job opportunities that will be necessary as our workforce grapples with energy transition.”

To bring various stakeholders and their interests together, Brown adds, “Governments around the world are playing a key role by creating the support mechanisms and regulatory environments that aims to address climate change and support the development of low-carbon solutions”.

According to Brown, “This includes both “carrots” and “sticks” such as robust industry targets for reducing GHG emissions, as well as programs and incentives that provide capital and critical testing facilities for cleantech solutions so providers can develop their products in collaboration with industry, investors and other stakeholders”. For example, Brown notes that “Canada put forward a carbon pricing mechanism and has committed the country to be Net Zero by 2050, as well as various support programs, such as Innovative Solutions Canada and a Net Zero Accelerator Initiative, to support decarbonisation efforts and the integration of cleantech solutions within the economy”.

Establish firmer processes that embed equity in technology and knowledge transfer

In a recent post, the Economist mentioned that nearly two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, richer countries received enough doses to vaccinate their populations many times over. In contrast, poorer countries have been unable to partially inoculate their citizens. Notably, the Economist highlights that vaccine inequity began early on in the pandemic, with richer countries able to invest in the drugs before their efficacy had even been proven and source the successful ones first.

Coincidently, COVAX, the organisation tasked with divvying up doses to poorer countries, has struggled to source and distribute vaccines in low-income countries amidst limited supplies and a lack of processes for distributing vaccines evenly.

According to the Brookings Institute, ending vaccine inequity through broader support for production, trade, and firmer distribution processes would be the best prescription for fully recovering from the pandemic, a view that the UN Human Rights Council has echoed.

Climate change poses a similar challenge to Covid-19, but one that also interacts with other global health threats to create connected, compounding and cascading crises, according to a policy brief produced by Médecins Sans Frontières for The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change.

As the climate crisis worsens and adverse impacts on human health accelerate, Sandra Smiley, a humanitarian worker and public health expert, says, “the development of the COVID-19 vaccine showcased that the world can rally quickly to find solutions in a global crisis. But inequitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and treatments globally is causing unnecessary suffering and creating conditions ripe for the emergence of new variants. It’s not only unjust — it’s counterproductive.”

In the case of Covid-19, researchers at the University of Oxford have proposed the creation of joint ventures between global vaccine manufacturers and local pharmaceutical companies to close the disparity in vaccination uptake. Their main argument notes that knowledge and skills can be transferred more easily through such partnerships to improve production capabilities and de-risk supply chains for vaccines and other essential equipment.

As climate change is expected to disproportionately impact the poorest countries, Smiley says that “Just like we’ve seen with COVID-19, charity isn’t going to produce equitable outcomes as societies face up to climate change. Communities worldwide should have access to existing tools for adaptation and mitigation and be free to build on these tools and develop their own.”

She continued: “A global collaboration framework that accelerates climate innovation and breaks down access barriers could be helpful to this end, but such frameworks must have justice at its heart. Governments must ensure that commercial interests don’t stand in the way and that people’s health and wellbeing are prioritised over profit.”

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