As the highly destructive and disruptive pandemic sweeps the world, coronavirus has upended the traditional and even the more modern economic and social operating assumptions. Governments are focused on planning how to counter this extreme threat, and also on devising ways to blunt the economic recession that the world is already descending into.
At the time the world got hit with Covid-19, sustainability was already getting positioned at the top of the agendas of a multitude of governments around the world, private sector and nongovernmental entities. Now, with the world gripped by the pandemic’s influence, the case for sustainability and for climate change action has become stronger, with added dimensions and an enhanced paradigm.
The coronavirus outbreak and climate change is interlinked, as the research indicates 75% of all infectious diseases come from disturbing our wildlife ecosystems. The situation is exacerbated by degradation of natural habitats and climate change, thereby presenting new and greater dangers. This calls for building societies that are resilient to emergencies of all kinds.
In Pakistan, my Ministry aims to work towards deployment of a significant part of the eventual economic recovery package towards enhancing our nation’s climate change resilience, just as we are braced to upgrade our public healthcare infrastructure to prepare for the next pandemic. To this end, we must increase investment in a resilient and sustainable infrastructure and work towards a green economy. Retooling our economy, focusing sharper on renewables rather than coal, reforestation instead of deforestation, we can together work for a more robust future for our coming generations. Being saddled with a raft of major issues, not the least economic constraints, Pakistan requires mitigating social behavioural changes and a greater recognition all round of our collective responsibility to the planet.
This is also a stark reminder of the rapid flux in the global environment, and it can be anticipated that major multilateral agencies in the not-so-distant future would legislate for climate change discipline in a stricter and stronger fashion, just as the FATF regulates the financial side of countries, imposing sanctions and penalties on the erring states. Pakistan has to work more intensely towards a collective behavioural change with the civil society fulfilling its responsibility towards sustainability and strengthening the multiple initiatives we currently have in operation along with the future ones on the landscape. We’re lucky in this regard to have a Prime Minister who is an avowed environmentalist and has identified climate change action as one of the core items of the governance agenda.
Pakistan needs to enhance its capability to model climate risk and its associated climate change economics. This will contribute towards climate stress testing in global funding initiatives and improving the recovery programs. Ideally, we need to decarbonise our heavy industries, and the federal government will undertake this progressively in a ratcheted fashion, and would soon open up this avenue for further talks. The returns to be gained from this initiative are multifarious, including opening up new sources of growth and risk mitigation.
The crisis has sharply brought into focus the lack of capacity and readiness in healthcare systems around the world to cope with a pandemic outbreak of this magnitude, not the least in developing nations like Pakistan. We have responded diligently to the challenge, but the connection between sustainability and healthcare has been well underlined across the world, as degradation of the environment, in one form or the other, invariably leads to high medical care costs. This necessitates, going forward, a deeper interface between healthcare and climate change. Well-resourced healthcare systems would provide the necessary bulwark to defend nations against high health security threats including climate change.
It is imperative that economic revival post COVID-19 should promote health, fairness and environmental protection. The overlaps and interconnections between multiple challenges including those of environmental degradation, economic crises, and escalating public health threats call for reconfiguring and retooling the conventional economic models that have been followed for decades.
A global fund, in this regard, to help developing nations take up the challenges thrust by COVID-19 more resourcefully, would go a long way in making the world a safer place. This pandemic has underlined unquestionably how closely nations and regions are interconnected, and only a holistic global effort will mitigate the rising risks including the potential of another pandemic. I will be talking to my international colleagues and contemporaries on this – we could generate and contribute to meaningful negotiations and deliberations to help put together the structure for a global fund to assist developing nations in mitigation of the immense risks posed by the pandemic.
Moreover, on the global front, it has become clear in the wake of COVID-19, systemic issues are not solved by incremental, independent responses. There exists a dire need for intensifying international collaboration and to streamline approaches on sustainability. We must use crises as an opportunity to chart new paths and achieve the elusive goal of alignment on climate change. We must take up the challenge, as it’s not a choice now, but an absolute necessity.