“THERE are decades when nothing happens and there are weeks where decades happen.” Vladimir Lenin did not have a health pandemic in mind but his words ring true as we witness a transformation take place in peacetime on a scale as never seen before. In just a matter of weeks, the lethal coronavirus has spread all over the world, halting trade and travel, slowing the global economy, triggering social upheaval and endangering the lives of millions.
The comparison with the financial crisis of 2008 or the Second World War is not accurate because one was the result of high-risk financial mortgage securities and the other the outcome of a war spread over four years involving many countries. This is a single virus that has paralysed life at a global level within a short period.
In a matter of months, it has deprived the global GDP of trillions of dollars. The butterfly effect of change at one place in a complex dynamic system leading to a large and non-linear impact with unexpected consequences was never more evident. More than any other single factor, Covid-19 has made us realise the interconnectedness and fragility of the world we live in. The rapid spread and scale of the cascading disruptions provide an array of real-time data, statistical indicators and other types of information for identifying gaps and opening new windows of opportunity for scaling up urgently needed actions and reforms.
According to the World Bank, over 80 countries have reported changes to social protection systems and governments are considering direct financial transfers to households and small businesses.
The next looming disaster is climate change.
The urgency and swiftness with which countries have taken difficult decisions proves that governments can make tough choices under emergency situations but do not invest adequately on prevention and preparedness during peacetime.
The next disaster looming on the horizon is climate change. Covid-19 is only a health emergency, but it has brought the world to a grinding halt. The climate emergency will be all-encompassing. The only difference between the two is that one is a clear and present threat and the other a slow burner. But the impact on the poor, like now, will be disproportionately high.
Developing countries will face an unprecedented collective threat to human life, with massive economic losses, outbreaks of epidemics, social disruptions, large-scale migrations and an unmanageable law-and-order situation. For too long now, response to crises has been met with inefficient and expensive approaches. It is time for revisiting business-as-usual scenarios and taking projections of impending disasters seriously for developing real-time coping strategies.
As the world grapples with economic insecurity and physical safety, it must find ways to learn lessons from this pandemic and use it as a guide for making future policies that are more climate-sensitive by taking into account the scale of the crisis that will happen with the present projection rate of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. The present crisis has highlighted the vulnerability of the poor in our country. The challenges of poverty, inequality, hunger, inadequate healthcare and a widening income and wealth gap between the rich and poor will get amplified by climate change, setting the stage for violent conflict and a breakdown of law and order.
Preparedness is as much a social, political and economic issue as it is an issue of human security and ecological integrity. Investment in carbon-neutral development may slow down the global economy temporarily but the return on investment and timely transition will have long-term benefits on the economy, social stability, health and productivity and, most importantly, sustained inclusive growth.
The environmental benefits that we are witnessing now cannot be seen as a boon as it is hurting people’s lives. The change must happen as a result of a plan that factors human well-being and regeneration of nature by design. The theory of chaos is based on the concept of underlying patterns, interconnectedness, constant feedback loops, repetition, similarity, fractals and self-organisation within apparent randomness of chaotic systems. It suggests that chaos leads to order and stabilisation of cyclic decisions, forcing the system to jump into its own state while trying to influence it from outside.
Governance systems – especially the pros and cons of authoritarian vs democratic in managing emergencies, the benefits of capitalist and socialist economic models, as well as concepts of security – will become topics of discussion and debate in the aftermath of this shared crisis.
Hopefully, the chaos generated by the pandemic will usher in a new global order with a paradigm shift in how we look at development and security by using new and creative ways of building a greener, safer and more prosperous future for all.
The writer is chief executive of the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.
Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2020