CiNext – The climate after the pandemic

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By Tonio Galea


Kofi Annan, the former U.N. Secretary General, once referred to certain global issues like climate change, terrorism and disease as ‘problems without passports’ that ignore man-made borders to effect all in one way or another.

With a few exceptions, many countries are striving to put the coronavirus pandemic behind them and get along with the ‘new normal ‘ even if the virus is not yet eliminated.

Although the full human impact and economic cost of the pandemic has not been quantified, it is is difficult to underestimate the effects of the virus on health care systems around the globe.

The crisis has brought to light the limitations and shortcomings of domestic and global medical supply production and distribution systems while piling strain on the physician workforce, hospitals, and health care systems in many countries.

More importantly, it made clear human vulnerabilities, showcasing the importance of good leadership and well-functioning, universal social and health care systems.

At the same time, bigger and more complex issues for which no straightforward solutions are found emerge more prominently. Choices must be made that turn out positively for one group of people and negatively for another.

Various medical experts warned that, even if this coronavirus can be controlled, it is not going be the last pandemic the world will see. Scientists have long warned about infectious diseases, particularly following the recent outbreaks of Ebola, SARS and the bird flu.

The more populations encroach on nature the greater the possibility of other pandemics is becoming.

Pandemics aside, the next global crisis – the climate crisis – is already well under way, building up its destructive potential around the globe.

More than ever before, these crises are showing that human health and the health of the planet go together. Healthy societies and markets depend on the health of the natural environment. In principle what needs to be done is known and the means to do it are there.

There are hopeful authors who predict that this crisis will bring about positive structural change to our society. But, as time passes, the shared interest and enthusiasm that was apparent at the beginning of the pandemic, will start to fizzle out, as human nature is wont to do. It becomes more difficult to sustain all the initiatives that have been developed and, in some countries, this was even difficult during the peak of the pandemic.

A structural change takes a lot of time and often costs a lot of money. The effects and remedies need to be entrenched in the defined processes, legislation, and spread throughout culture to be better prepared in the long run.

If this outbreak showed one thing, it was the thirst for reliable and credible information. It reversed the decade-old trend of eroding trust in established institutions. It restored trust in mainstream science by policymakers and the public.

Most challenges today cannot be stopped at borders or contained by national sovereignty. More than before, we must imagine a global public good with a renewed focus of what national security entails.