The world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has taken priority over many of the other challenges we are actively facing. One large issue is that of enforcing environmental regulations.
Across the board, we have shifted gears to quickly manage the fallout from social and economic restrictions caused by the “Stay-at-Home” orders. Although we saw an initial decrease in global carbon emissions from people staying home, these effects were temporary, and we are poised to surge past our pre-pandemic output levels.
Colin Harrison of Resilience Brokers, a network of technological innovators devoted to systems thinking and sustainable urban performance, took notice. Rather than being discouraged, he saw this more as an opportunity to move the way the world works in a positive direction with sustainability, resilience, and fairness.
COVID-19 emerged from some of the same factors that are driving climate change.
The Pivot Projects initiative calls attention to the relationship between the factors that drive climate change and those that make us susceptible to pandemics such as COVID-19. In addition to environmental implications, deforestation, loss of habitat for wildlife, urbanization, the consumption of bushmeat, and wet markets create scenarios prime for the emergence of future pandemics.
When we remove natural habitats by clearing forests to create more land for agricultural needs or urban growth, we reduce biodiversity. Animals that cannot relocate face extinction. The more concentrated the remaining habitat, the higher the likelihood of animals sharing infectious microorganisms amongst themselves.
The remaining animals now carrying emerging pathogens are forced in closer contact with humans as their habitats continue to shrink, making the spread of disease from animals to humans a greater risk. A common example is Malaria, killing over one million people each year. From 2003-2015 it was reported that a 10% increase in deforestation contributes to a 3.3% rise in malaria cases.
Wet markets, those selling produce, seafood, and meat are also a contributing factor to the spread of disease. Often, live animals and illegal wildlife are sold and slaughtered at the markets, increasing potential human interaction with pathogens from wild animals. Restricting these markets would help limit our contact with viruses.
Stimulus measures intended to restart economies - although crucial to our livelihoods - will have a significant and lasting negative impact on the environment.
Vivid Economics, a strategic economics consultancy, reports that approximately 3.5 trillion dollars will be injected into sectors across 17 major economies that have a significant impact on the environment. The United States alone will provide $479 billion to support environmentally intensive industries such as the oil and gas industry. This combined with the relaxed enforcement of regulations and environmental protection requirements for those businesses who cite non-compliance due to COVID-19 creates a grim forecast for the battle against climate change and future pandemics.
Can COVID-19 recovery be a catalyst for Net Zero by 2050, reducing future risk & reaching UN Global Goals?
Pivot Projects aims to create evidence-based recommendations for post-COVID19 stimulus policies that promote public-private partnerships to achieve 2050 Net Zero and UN Sustainable Development Goals using the UN Disaster Risk Reduction framework and putting health at the center.
Although almost 200 countries have adopted the Paris Agreement, a global and legally binding climate change agreement put forth in 2016 to limit global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has suggested more significant action be taken to prevent the dangerous impacts of exceeding 1.5 degrees of global warming. To prevent this, they recommend cutting emissions to achieve a net-zero status by 2050 meaning a drastic reduction of fossil fuels and removal of CO2 from the atmosphere until what we remove matches what we emit.
Avoiding deregulation, investing in sustainable and nature-based solutions, and providing government subsidies for green products are some of the tools we can use to build stimulus packages that don’t derail our progress in this critical fight against climate change.
With a growing community of academics and volunteers contributing data and insights and pro-bono services from a top environmental AI platform, Spark Beyond, Pivot Projects is working to create effective policy recommendations that respond to COVID-19 while still integrating these environmental goals.
The Global Collective
Colin reached out to colleagues to see if they would join him in a moon-shot. The next day, he and two others started planning a team. In two weeks’ time, they had twenty-five volunteers devoted to an initiative they called “Pivot Projects.” Since launch, they have grown into a worldwide collaboration of 140 people from more than 25 countries.
Colin has been encouraged by the number of people that want to be involved and their willingness to collaborate, regardless of timezones, cultural differences, and language barriers.
Ways you can help
Pivot Projects is a volunteer project combining a wide range of professional and academic skills. At present, they need more expertise in sports management (all kinds), media relations, and illustration & video production.
In addition, they are looking for contributions of data and expertise from testbed locations, academic research and commercial businesses, access to international policy influencers, and funding to sustain a small core coordinating team.