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Greta Thunberg moves her climate strike online

The global pandemic has laid waste to all kinds of plans, as we enter crisis mode. Mere weeks ago, for instance, climate change was high up the agenda for politicians, businesses and for people. Now, the world has pressed pause.

The UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP26) due to be held in Glasgow in November, has been postponed. Greta Thunberg has had to take her School Strike for Climate off the streets and online. Businesses too, are shifting to survival mode and sustainability initiatives may now have to take a back seat.

Yet as time goes on, it’s becoming apparent that the pandemic and the climate crisis may be interrelated in some ways.

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Last month, UN Environment Programme executive director Inger Andersen pointed to the destruction of wild habitats and disruption of natural ecosystems as one reason why diseases are more able to crossover into human populations. “We are intimately interconnected with nature,” she said, “whether we like it or not. If we don’t take care of nature, we can’t take care of ourselves.”

Meanwhile, a Harvard University study published in early April shared evidence that mortality risk for COVID-19 is higher in areas with more air pollution. Ironically, declines in air and road traffic as well as reduced industrial production have led to dramatic improvements in air quality in cities all over the world in recent weeks, as atmospheric maps from NASA have shown.

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Pollution in China from January 1-20, 2020. Courtesy of NASA.
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Pollution in China from February 10-25, 2020. Courtesy of NASA.

There’s also much that the response to these two challenges share. Tackling pandemic disease and climate change both require collaboration at scale; demand rapid innovation; and highlight the need to drive global behavior change. And tackling both, it seems, requires a deeper understanding and respect for nature and a commitment to its resilience, alongside our own.

For now, our collective focus is rightly on our immediate safety and survival. But when the world gets back to its feet, we’ll be at an inflection point, where we choose how to rebuild and start again. And if nothing else, the pandemic has illustrated what kind of transformation can be achieved when the will is there.

So how should businesses and brands respond? Perhaps, by dusting off those sustainability initiatives.

Experts from the NGO and international think tank the Club of Rome have recently argued that this is the time for systemic change, and that we need strategies and initiatives that build greater resilience by balancing the needs of economies with those of the planet.

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Photos by Markus Spiske from Pexels.
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As for consumers, it’s worth noting that, while they may not be aware of the connections between climate change and global health threats, they remain focused on environmental issues. Wunderman Thompson Data’s recent AnxietyIndex survey reveals that levels of concern among American citizens around issues like climate change remain largely unaffected during the pandemic.

For now, the city of Amsterdam provides a valuable case study. City leaders have just announced that they will rebuild the city’s post-COVID-19 economy using the ‘doughnut’ sustainability model, proposed by Professor Kate Raworth in her 2017 book, Doughnut Economics. The model ensures that the needs of communities and economies are met, but safely within planetary boundaries. As Raworth explained to The Guardian, “this is the moment we are going to connect bodily health to planetary health.”

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