There seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel as the world is reeling from the COVID-19 global pandemic that has spread to almost every country in the world. While the pandemic has tested the effectiveness of governments and its public services, the question remains: whether the world will be more willing to embrace a new sustainable development pathway – a “new normal” drawing from this experience.
The pandemic has tested the limits of countries to address the impact of the virus on its citizen’s health, livelihoods and invariably lives. The most vulnerable are the ones that feel the most impact due to this pandemic which shows the need for strategic measures to include their needs and challenges as countries begin to ease restrictions. Despite its negative consequences, the air has become cleaner, there is an increased awareness of biodiversity and conservation of wildlife and an overall increased sense of responsibility and innovation among people around the world. However, to ensure that such positive outcomes from such a negative experience – we need to work together build a “new normal” that requires changes to our lifestyles and invariably our societal systems.
Bicycles – zooming towards reduced CO2 emissions
Climate change is, by some referred, to as a slow pandemic in comparison to COVID-19. While COVID-19 is a virus with direct outcomes that are clearly visible, climate change remains hidden and requires a more in-depth look. Addressing climate change requires a fundamental shift to ensure that our children have a cleaner and safer world to live in.
While UNDP is working on “the climate promise” with governments to support transition from ending usage of coal and fossil fuel subsidies to increasing investments in renewables, we as citizens of the world need to play our own part. Adopting more environmental-friendly use of transport, such as bicycles (which I use every day!) can help keep the air quality that has improved significantly and CO2 emissions that has reduced drastically due to decrease in gasoline consuming traffic thanks to COVID-19. Moreover, during the COVID lockdowns, we have seen cities from Colombia to Berlin establishing temporary bike-lanes which reduces the risk of transmitting the disease when taking the bicycle making it one of the safest ways of transport.
So, don’t stand on the side-lines and wait for the society to shift from Brown to a Green economy, take a bicycle for the next errand or commute, instead of a gasoline driven machine.
Plant-based diets – greening my plate and planet!
The origin of the COVID-19 virus has been linked to wildlife, which forces us to rethink the relationship between humans and animals. Increasing encroachment of cities over natural habitats forces animals to wander into cities, thus, making the transmission of such zoonotic viruses to humans easier. Conservation of biodiversity is important to ensure that wildlife have a home just as much as you and I. To further support protection of wildlife and biodiversity, a shift in dietary habits is much needed. There has been a significant increase in the number of people switching to locally grown vegetables and plant based diets. Changing attitudes towards a plant-based diet will help in securing our environment as well as aid in tackling climate change.
An exhaustive report on land use and climate change prepared by 107 scientists for the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that switching to a plant-based diet can help fight climate change. In the UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub, we organized a screening of the Game changers and are in discussion with the cafeteria to reduce meat and increase plants. Personally, after 40 years of eating meat, I moved towards being a flexitarian to nowadays, a flegan (flexible vegan). I reduced my intake of meat and dairy by around 95% while still enjoy eating a tiny bit of Dutch cheese from time to time.
A healthy diet and using your bicycle can improve your health, clean the environment and reduces your expenses which can lead to an enormous change in greening the world around us.
Universal Basic Income (UBI): Lifeline for lost livelihoods
While social protection measures have been traditionally linked to the jobs that people have, COVID-19 has changed the norm where many have lost their jobs thus making us rethink the whole concept of social protection.
Such loss of jobs result in inequalities being widened pushing several vulnerable people below the poverty line. With a possible recession looming in the distant horizon, economies worldwide are scrambling to mitigate worsening of the situation. Considering the current scenario, the concept of universal basic income (UBI) seems to be a foot in the door.
Social scientists believe that a fixed basic income can help stabilizing the middle class thus saving millions of people from being pushed into extreme poverty and hunger. While the idea was initially proposed by noted leader and activist Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967, many countries including Kenya, Nigeria, India, Netherlands, Iran, United States and Canada have expressed interest with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau pledging CAD$2,000 a month, for the next four months, to workers who have lost income due to the pandemic – a short-term form of UBI.
I do think that a long-term form of UBI, while challenging, is still possible (even my boss thinks so!) so long as we address the so-called “fiscal termites” to catch tax evaders and enacting fair taxation (including phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies) measures along with data-sharing between countries to ensure that people are “fairly” taxed for the “benefit” of all.
This crisis can be used as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build new alliances and build a new future as we march towards a “new normal”, with some ideas that were not thinkable a few months ago. Bicycles, Vegetables and UBI could be part of the new future we will be building.