Covid 19 and its global impact has focused attention both on the strains imposed on our health systems and the ability of those systems to respond to the challenges presented by the virus and the interconnecting of people and travel that have acted as vectors in the spread of the disease. The pandemic also served to emphasise the vulnerability of people and societies, and to shed light on the relationship between people and the planet.
Our world, and the diversity of ecosystems it supports, is threatened by deforestation, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, draining of wetlands, climate change, globalization and other factors of modern life. As noted by World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in an address to the 73rd World Health Assembly on May 18, 2020: “The pandemic is a reminder of the intimate and delicate relationship between people and planet. Any efforts to make our world safer are doomed to fail unless they address the critical interface between people and pathogens, and the existential threat of climate change, that is making our Earth less habitable.”
In addition to the devastation caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, we have seen the highest number of storms and hurricanes ever logged in one year and the worst wildfires on record, which also serve to re-emphasise the message of the need to protect the environment. Deforestation, microplastic contamination of the oceans and environmental damage related to spills and contamination all are examples of how lack of cohesive and coherent regulations and conduct have exacerbated and accelerated the destruction of both land above sea and land below water.
The combined impact of these events has highlighted the need for governmental and inter-governmental action to move toward achieving the goals set out in the Paris Agreement 2015, which seeks to address climate change and its negative impacts. The plan is to achieve a global temperature rise of less than 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Britain and other countries have declared the target of being carbon neutral by 2050. U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden has promised as part of the Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice that the United States will achieve a 100 percent clean energy economy and reach net-zero emissions no later than 2050.
Aligning what’s best for the environment with what’s best for the business has become key, as investment in a healthy planet not only is an investment in the health of workers and others, but an investment in the health of the world’s economies and in individual businesses. Industries, such as gas and oil production and car manufacturing, have pivoted and are radically re-thinking their future plans and development strategies in response to these requirements and stakeholders’ concerns.
COVID-19: A Cataclysmic Event
In 2020, we experienced a cataclysmic event in the form of COVID 19. This global emergency did not bring with it mass destruction of physical infrastructure, but it has tested to breaking point the ability of local, regional and national governments to cope with such a massive civil emergency. Dramatic changes in our living and working practices have been brought about by this invisible enemy, and the social, physical and economic impact of this disease will be long lasting.
The resulting economic recovery will produce winners and losers, and inefficient and ill-prepared organizations will fail. In addition, global climate change has already had observable effects on the environment. Glaciers have shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted and trees are flowering sooner. Effects that scientists had predicted in the past would result from global climate change are now occurring, including loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves. This in turn is impacting our planet’s ecosystem and biodiversity.
According to Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, “Many of the global health challenges that we face today, including infectious diseases, malnutrition and noncommunicable diseases are all linked to the decline of biodiversity and ecosystems.”
Scientists have high confidence that global temperatures will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes more than 1,300 scientists from the United States and other countries, forecasts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. According to the IPCC, the extent of climate change effects on individual regions will vary over time and with the ability of different societal and environmental systems to mitigate or adapt to change.
A new world order may emerge where the sustainable development goals (SDGs), as envisaged in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, become central to governments, inter-governmental and business strategic planning. Organizations are focusing on aligning their mainstream reporting on performance against environmental, social and governance (ESG) indicators and tracking their contributions towards SDGs on a consistent basis.
Biodiversity—the variety of life found on Earth—is necessary to keep humans and the planet alive and healthy. The water we drink, the air we breathe, the goods we produce and discard and the foods we produce and eat impact the biodiversity of life found on the planet and the very health of the planet itself.
To learn more about SDGs, ESG indicators and ISO standards and how organizations are using them to promote and advance sustainable development, download our new Insight Report “ESGs and Sustainable Value Creation: Aligning Reporting Against Environmental, Social and Governance Indicators.”