classes for sustainability? — European Atmosphere Company

COVID-19: a ‘late lesson’ from an early warning?

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a 12 months of involuntary in addition to voluntary change. Whereas there’s nonetheless no consensus on how the infectious agent SARS-CoV-2 emerged, the research by Cheng et al. (2007) has been put ahead for instance of an early warning. They wrote: 

Coronaviruses are well-known to endure genetic recombination, which can result in new genotypes and outbreaks. The presence of a giant reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, along with the tradition of consuming unique mammals in southern China, is a time bomb. The opportunity of the re-emergence of SARS and different novel viruses from animals or laboratories and due to this fact the necessity for preparedness shouldn’t be ignored (Cheng et al., 2007, p.683).

Issues in regards to the threat of pandemics have been raised previously by numerous establishments and governments (EEA, 2010, 2015), with some nations creating particular plans and techniques. Nevertheless, following the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) pandemic, the World Well being Group warned that the world can be ‘ill-prepared’ to answer a extreme pandemic threatening public well being (WHO, 2011). It was proved proper.

Human progress depends upon the power and willingness to study from the previous. The way in which early warnings of environmental and human hazards emerge, and the way they’re handled, gives us with many ‘late’ classes (EEA, 2001, 2013). These classes may also help pave the way in which in direction of extra resilient and better-prepared societies. Earlier EEA studies describe circumstances of unintended environmental hazards brought on by means of chemical compounds or different actions (EEA, 2001, 2013). These late classes primarily spotlight the necessity for precautionary approaches and methods to strike a steadiness between desired financial alternatives and unsure environmental hurt. 

The potential classes from COVID-19 appear to run deeper than that. The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder that our id is deeply entangled with that of the Earth’s ecosystems. The concept we’re part of nature and never separate from it’s a idea that our refined societies appear to have forgotten.

Pandemics in an age of globalised societies

Plagues and pandemics have occurred all through human historical past (Waltner-Toews, 2020). Nevertheless, right now’s globalised societies and economies, and the way in which we work together with the pure setting, have an effect on the way in which pandemics develop. There’s little doubt that new pathogens are sometimes created on the interfaces between wild and home animals and people, and that these typically manifest as zoonotic illness (Determine 1). Based on the United Nations Atmosphere Programme (UNEP, 2020), ‘60 per cent of recognized infectious illnesses in people and 75 per cent of all rising infectious illnesses are zoonotic’, whereas at the very least six outbreaks of novel coronaviruses had been noticed within the final century. 

A number of interacting drivers underpin the emergence of zoonotic illnesses by creating novel and various contacts amongst wildlife, livestock and other people. These embody (1) inhabitants development and fast and uncontrolled urbanisation, (2) growing demand for animal protein, with a consequent enhance in exploitation of wildlife, agricultural intensification and commerce, (3) insufficient husbandry practices and (4) poorly managed casual wildlife and recent produce markets, and industrial meat processing crops (UNEP, 2020). It’s also clear that right now’s excessive ranges of worldwide commerce and journey make pathogens unfold quicker, as ‘illnesses can now transfer around the globe in intervals shorter than their incubation intervals’ (UNEP, 2020). 

Though the precise origin and pure reservoir of SARS-CoV-2 stays unknown, pandemics like COVID-19 are prone to be the end result of the mechanisms described above. This can be a stark instance of how human well being and the pure setting are intertwined.

Determine 1 Pathogen circulation on the interface between people, livestock and wildlife

Supply: EEA (2020a), tailored from Jones et al. (2013)

Extra consideration can be being paid to those complexities in coverage fields outdoors epidemiology and public well being, as well being crises like COVID-19 have far-reaching implications for folks and society at massive. The Council of Europe just lately addressed the connection between pandemics and democracy, freedom of expression and the rule of legislation. It reminds us that the COVID-19 disaster shouldn’t be used as a pretext for proscribing the general public’s entry to data, and that emergency measures taken by Member States mustn’t undermine EU’s founding values of human rights, democracy and the rule of legislation (Council of Europe, 2020). 

The EU Biodiversity Technique for 2030 (EC, 2020a) and the Farm to Fork Technique (EC, 2020b) explicitly relate COVID-19 to present ranges of biodiversity loss. The sense of urgency accompanying COVID-19 seems to open a window of alternative for heightened consciousness. Quite a few commentators, activists and researchers are discussing if and the way the heightened consciousness created by COVID-19 might be harnessed to extend environmental consciousness (Beattie and McGuire, 2020) and reframe financial fashions (Barlow et al., 2020; The Economist, 2020). This additionally extends to nation states and inter- and supranational organisations such because the Directorate-Basic for Analysis and Innovation (DG Analysis and Innovation, 2021), the Organisation for Financial Co-operation and Improvement (OECD, 2021) and quite a few main non-governmental organisations (for instance the European Environmental Bureau (EEB, 2021)), that are concerned in formulating post-COVID transformation methods.

The place there’s a will, there’s a manner

One constructive factor that we’ve discovered from COVID-19 is that modern societies are actually capable of ‘act with obligatory drive’ when required (Mahmood and Sanchez, 2020). New laws might be rapidly enforced, with sure social practices and financial actions even being prohibited. Airports, eating places, sports activities arenas and colleges might be closed in a single day if the reason being thought-about legit (at the very least when it’s seen as momentary). EU Member States have willingly taken measures towards COVID-19 which have had huge financial prices, together with creating the danger of financial recession and extreme unemployment. 

Can an analogous stage of responsiveness be mobilised for attaining transitions to sustainability (Scharmer, 2020)? The World Well being Group’s estimate of seven million annual deaths as a consequence of air air pollution would additionally justify strict measures. In gentle of COVID-19, it’s exhausting to see how financial prices per se or the danger of recession can proceed for use as legitimate arguments towards environmental motion or transformations in direction of sustainability.

The post-corona planet: have we modified?

The worldwide group will want years, if not a long time, to evaluate the total extent of COVID-19 and its implications for our society, together with its impacts on inequalities, well being and the well-being of residents (EEA, 2020b). 

Unprecedented nationwide lockdowns, journey restrictions and the closing of nationwide borders within the first half of 2020 and since have led to short-term enhancements within the setting in Europe. Reductions in site visitors, delivery and aviation led to sudden enhancements in air high quality and noise ranges, with the focus of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in some cities declining by as much as 60% in contrast with the identical interval in 2019 (EEA, 2020c). The pandemic additionally had the rapid impact of encouraging folks to decide on extra energetic modes of journey. The rise in biking specifically has prompted cities to develop into extra bike pleasant, together with by introducing new biking infrastructure (Kraus and Koch, 2021; Nikitas et al., 2021). A discount in human exercise gave habitats the possibility to recuperate and species the chance to occupy new areas and niches (EEA, 2020d). Furthermore, preliminary information present that EU greenhouse fuel (GHG) emissions decreased by 10% from 2019 to 2020 (EEA, 2021a). 

Alternatively, the necessity for protecting and different disposable tools has led to a rise within the manufacturing and consumption of plastics, and thus plastic waste (Ford, 2020; EEA, 2021b).

‘There is no such thing as a use in attempting to revive the established order ante.’ (DG Analysis and Innovation, 2021)

It’s not solely residents who’ve needed to change their habits. Policymakers additionally needed to react rapidly to the pandemic and its socio-economic impacts. The European Fee responded swiftly with NextGenerationEU, a restoration plan to ‘assist construct a post-COVID-19 EU that’s greener, extra digital, extra resilient and higher match for the present and forthcoming challenges’ (EC, 2021). Taken along with the EU’s long-term funds, the amount of sources mobilised for the local weather and setting is unprecedented. This creates hope for imagining a unique future, one faraway from the ‘outdated regular’ of unsustainability. But, it stays to be seen whether or not sources will probably be invested successfully.

As a society, we must always study from previous experiences. The 2008-2009 monetary disaster led to decrease emissions, however the impact was short-lived (Peters et al., 2012). Now, as soon as once more, the crucial to emerge from financial recession and the obvious resilience of unsustainable political and financial priorities present little hope that the post-corona planet will probably be extra sustainable, except there’s an energetic and acutely aware change in social and financial practices. 

Sadly, early alerts will not be encouraging. With the resumption of social and financial exercise, concentrations of airborne pollution are growing, and in some circumstances returning to pre-pandemic ranges (EEA, 2020d). Warnings have already been issued a few swift rebound in world vitality demand and GHG emissions publish COVID-19 (IEA, 2021; Tollefson, 2021), whereas nationally decided contributions on the world scale (Liu and Raftery, 2021) lack the mandatory ambition to maintain world warming throughout the 2°C diploma goal, not to mention 1.5°C. On the European scale, latest projections counsel that GHG emissions would possibly bounce again to pre-pandemic ranges except extra measures are put in place (Determine 2) (EEA, 2021a).

Determine 2 Historic developments and projections of greenhouse fuel emissions

Supply: EEA (2021c)
Extra information right here…

Throughout the pandemic, we have now struggled with and discovered to deal with the disaster. For a time, we modified our every day actions and reoriented our priorities, valued issues in a different way and maybe appreciated the pure world round us extra. But, the query stays as as to whether we have now modified in any elementary manner.

Now’s the time to alter

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the systemic frailty of our world economic system and society (EEA, 2020e). It’s not going too far to say that we’re at present dwelling in a world characterised by a number of world crises: a well being disaster, an financial and monetary disaster, a local weather disaster and a disaster in nature (EEA, 2020e). One factor that the historical past of pandemics has taught us is that extra pandemics needs to be anticipated (Waltner-Toews, 2020) and we must always on the very least be ready.

‘COVID-19 will not be solely a wake-up name, it’s a gown rehearsal for the world of challenges to return […] The pandemic has taught us that our selections matter. As we glance to the long run, allow us to ensure that we select properly.’ A. Guterres (2020), Secretary-Basic of the United Nations

Taking the early warning from Cheng et al. (2007) significantly would imply contemplating a spread of measures globally, together with tackling unlawful wildlife commerce, closing down unlawful meals markets, tightening the regulation of commercial meat manufacturing, altering social and cultural meals practices and, in the end, altering unsustainable patterns of consumption, urbanisation and pure habitat destruction (IPBES, 2020).

As highlighted by the OECD (2021), returning to enterprise as standard would imply lacking an important alternative to sort out underlying and interconnected environmental, financial, social and relational challenges that pre-date COVID-19. A well-being strategy might information the method of ‘constructing again higher’ (OECD, 2021), particularly if underpinned by the realisation that environmental well being is a prerequisite for public well being. 

We don’t lack information or concepts for motion. The limiting issue is company, the company to handle the driving forces underpinning this and different world crises. 

The following disaster, no matter kind it takes, is prone to reveal itself for what it’s: yet one more symptom of the identical underlying downside — unsustainable human manufacturing and consumption (EEA, 2020e). It’s this persistent downside that continues to specific itself in challenges which are framed both as ‘points’ — to be addressed in premeditated coverage cycles — or as ‘crises’ — requiring extraordinary and emergency measures (Lakoff, 2017). Due to this fact, our societies’ governance approaches ought to tackle not solely the underlying roots of the issues themselves, but in addition the more and more frequent and even simultaneous emergence of what we used to consider as distinctive crises. 

To deal with the sustainability downside we face, social and financial practices should change throughout completely different ranges and facets of society: the way in which we reside our lives and the way in which we eat, transfer and energy our societies can not stay the identical. Whereas enduring COVID-19 lockdowns, French anthropologist and thinker Bruno Latour proposed an train of reflection (Latour, 2020). He instructed that we take into account which suspended actions we want to see gone for good and which we want to resume; which brand-new actions or habits we want to develop within the aftermath of the pandemic; and the way employees or entrepreneurs disenfranchised by a reshaped economic system is perhaps helped to transition into different, extra sustainable or extra resilient roles or actions. 

Whereas this train might be carried out individually, it additionally provides rise to elementary questions that deserve consideration at establishment stage. Given the huge recognition that sustainability transitions rely upon sure practices being phased out (EEA, 2019), the train might even function inspiration for the additional improvement and implementation of the European Inexperienced Deal. 

COVID-19 triggered sudden and forceful motion. Emergencies have their very own dynamics and dangers, not least to democracy and legality. But, we have now seen that, the place there’s a will, there’s a manner. Reflecting on the unprecedented mobilisation and impression of responses to COVID-19 can encourage new methods of considering and assist humanity to grab the second and make a change. If we will briefly shut down components of society to outlive the specter of COVID-19, it appears solely affordable that we will make important societal adjustments to forestall COVID-22, -25 or -30, to not point out the opposite threats as a consequence of local weather change and environmental degradation that we’ll most certainly face.



Strand, R., Kovacic, Z., Funtowicz, S. (European Centre for Governance in Complexity)

Benini, L., Jesus, A. (EEA) 

Inputs, feedbacks, and evaluation:

Anita Pirc‑Velkavrh (EEA), Jock Martin (EEA), Catherine Ganzleben (EEA), Claire Dupont (EEA Scientific Committee), Tom Oliver (Studying College), Thomas Arnold (DG R&I), Nick Meynen (EEB), members of the Eionet and the EU Environmental Information Neighborhood


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Briefing no. 20/2021
Title: COVID-19: classes for sustainability?
HTML – TH-AM-21-020-EN-Q – ISBN 978-92-9480-423-5 – ISSN 2467-3196 – doi: 10.2800/320311
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