Discussion 28 May 2020, Our Green Tomorrow

Panel participants:

  • Anders Wijkman, Chair of the Climate-KIC and Honorary President of the Club of Rome
  • Ria Sen, a Disaster Risk Reduction expert at UN World Food Programmes
  • Martha McPherson, UCL Head of Green Economy and Sustainable Growth at the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose
  • Facilitator: Theo Richardson-Gool of Cov360

Summary

The consensus is that COVID-19 is a biodiversity crisis which has provided the opportunity to consider healthcare preparedness as a present issue. Health, ecological concerns, and sustainability are interconnected issues which require a holistic approach. Using technology for social good, and rethinking business and the incentives in the economy are essential for a green recovery where public value is central to government planning.

Biodiversity

Wijkman emphasised the need to change energy systems for any hope of a sustainable future for the planet. His point, the current way that materials flow through society can account for approximately 50% of pollution and 80% of biodiversity loss. The achievement of sustainability goals is unlikely if we deplete global resources, as we are currently in the race to maximise immediate profits. His recommendation, taxing resources themselves would provide much needed sustainable outcomes.

Preparedness

Sen stated: “Preparedness, in a word, is readiness”. She reminded the audience that preparedness is the responsibility of all parties, from the individual to the international level. 

McPherson, on preparedness, or lack thereof, highlighted that since the 1980s, innovation-led activities are passed on from government to the private sector. Government input has been minimal, reduced to correct market failures such as bailouts in financial crises. This limits the ability of governments to respond quickly.

Technology

On technology, Wijkman stated that guided technologies are essential to achieve the 2030 SDGS and access to modern technology is essential, stating how capacity growth and funding is necessary to achieve this. However, he reflected on how emerging exponential technologies posed security risks that undermine democracy by manipulating elections or enabling surveillance states.

Sen highlighted that technology could, mitigate, and monitor disaster risks, allowing for all-inclusive solidary preparedness plans. She also saw benefits from technology such as AI and disease diagnostics, tracking, and tracing, which have been seen in several countries to help curb the spread of COVID-19 successfully. However, adaptable technologies should be a shared public and private sector goal to promote social good and connect people, process, and technology.

Rethinking Business

The current measures of progress in society today are outdated. Sen suggested we start to change how we evaluate human progress by measuring well-being, the health of ecosystems, and climatic and economic stability instead of using production growth. She reflected on how the current short-term nature of the global economy is problematic, as it does not account for the future, only the present. 

On business, as usual, Wijkmen summarised, “[we] need to be mindful. We need to rethink development and try to build resilience”. He called for a change in energy systems, and to rethink current business models by changing products into services. The example he gave was that mobile phone industries, instead of purchasing each new model as it comes out and disposing of the old one, should lease the phones. This would also provide incentives for manufacturers to produce products with a longer lifespan and with components and materials that can be recycled and reused.

Public Value

Concerning public value, McPherson spoke of innovations emerging from communities across the world in response to COVID-19, which exemplify how the world can benefit from public social value as a core factor. Indeed, mutual aid and civil society engagement are forms of innovation. The comments reinforced earlier remarks regarding a shift away from financial profits as a marker of success for countries. The need to add social value to markets highlighted the need to ensure the climate crisis is considered part of the public health crisis. Wijlkman complemented the points made, highlighting the importance of the public sector in creating solutions to environmental and societal challenges.

Stakeholders

Sen proposed a holistic and multisectoral approach that includes individuals, community, public, private and government sectors as the way forward to build back better. This is possible if public value were made essential in the estimation of progress.

McPherson added that citizen engagement and collective movement can be tools to foster social value, public value and a circular economy for the planet moving forward. 

Conclusion 

The discussion moderated by Cov360 co-founder, Theo Richardson-Gool, highlighted that innovation includes dynamic citizen-led responses which reflect how Cov360 operates. The talk reflected a holistic strategy that highlights the interconnectedness of planetary health, public health, and COVID-19, central to the philosophy of Cov360.

Report by Jessie Karlovich and Samia Khan of Cov360

The full Our Green Tomorrow event can be rewatched below.

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