The world may need to change its business-as-usual economic model in the face of several crises of global scale, accentuated by unprecedented levels of inequality, environmental degradation and climate destabilization, says a climate change expert. The world is witnessing the devastating consequences of under-prepared health systems in the face of regular shocks, says Arthur Wyns in an article published on the World Economic Forum website.
The coronavirus outbreak may result in a deeper understanding of the ties that bind humanity and help the world in its fight against climate change, the biggest public health threat of the 21st century, says Wyns, climate change advisor at the World Health Organization. He also lists other threats such as a surge in populism, conflict, economic uncertainty, and mounting public health issues.
Wyns says both the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis require a global-to-local response and long-term thinking, guided by science and need to protect the most vulnerable. They require political will to make some fundamental changes in behaviour and policies. He lists out four lessons the world can learn from the Covid-19 outbreak that will help in the struggle against the climate crisis.
1. Robust public health systems key to prosperity
World nations will need to lift the austerity measures that weakened national health systems to create resilient and prosperous economies. Well-funded and equitable health systems backed by a health workforce are crucial to ward off health security threats including climate change.
The article cites the example of Iran, saying the West Asian nation could have saved several lives at the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, had its healthcare system been prepared for such crises. A well-resourced health system could have helped Haiti to cope with the effects of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
2. The world must address inequality
Inequality is a major hurdle for efforts to ensure the health and wellbeing of humans across the globe. Economic and social inequality results in unequal access to healthcare systems. This is why Covid-19 is a greater threat in cities where people are exposed to higher levels of pollution. The threat is more accentuated for those living in poorer areas. This trend holds true for the health effects of climate change too. It has been proven that pollution due to the burning of fossil fuels impacts the poor disproportionately.
According to WHO estimates, about a fourth of the global health burden due to sickness, death and financial costs could be prevented by reducing the environmental and social risk factors. Promoting universal health coverage and ensuring healthy environments are the most effective ways to stave off the long-term health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.
3. Behavioural changes and collective action
The coronavirus outbreak has forced humans to change their behaviour to protect themselves against the world health threat in more than 100 years. This change could result in a long-term shift in behaviours that could lead to collective action and effective risk management. Even though climate change threat is slower and more long-term, it also warrants an equally dramatic and sustained shift in human behaviour to prevent irreversible damage.
4. Sense of shared humanity
Crises such as the Covid-19 outbreak make people realize that the health and safety of their loved ones are linked to those of the community, country and the world. This results in a regained sense of shared humanity. Both the coronavirus outbreak and the climate crisis present a clear and present threat to we all care about. If the people across the globe hold on to this sense of shared humanity, they could make the social and economic systems better, more resilient, and compassionate. Therefore, the financial and social packages should focus more on health, equity, and environmental protection.
The article says all health shocks hit the poorest and the most vulnerable the hardest. They throw several families into extreme poverty because of they have to pay for healthcare. The health disasters will reinforce global inequality and the poor and marginalized suffer the most.