By Agata Rita Borracci* - Venice
“In 2020, a tiny virus literally brought humanity to its knees, humiliated it by threatening its prospects for progress and undermining the already delicate balance between humans and the environment.” This is how Michele Candotti, Chief of Staff and Director of the Executive Office of the UN Development Programme since 2017, summed up his point of view on our planet. The sudden advent of Covid-19 has found us unprepared to make fast and fundamental choices. In fact, he notes, “the mechanisms that govern our society and the economy” are not up to scratch with the decisions taken, said the agronomist.
“Covid-19, however, is perhaps only the latest phase, the last chapter of a much deeper crisis marked by the increasing impact of humankind on the earth,” he continued, “an impact so considerable as to mark an entire era — that of humans — called Anthropocene by Nobel Chemistry Laureate, Paul Crutzen.”
The risk posed by infectious diseases on a global scale is now ranked number one by the Global Risk Report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2021 and, also on the basis of these data, today there is the need to carefully look at and prioritize the long-term effects of the pandemic, which affect both the economy and environmental conditions.
There is the risk, Candotti said, also in other international contexts, that companies and governments will continue to delay measures to counteract the negative effects of environmental threats and economic risks, as has happened in the past years. This is a gamble that, he pointed out, we can no longer afford, as demonstrated by the extreme weather conditions detected in the past few months and the environmental emergencies caused by man, which are increasingly linked to adverse events in all continents.
Four opportunities to extend the life of the planet
The challenge is even greater if one considers the recent analysis of the spending of major economies carried out by the United Nations Development Programme, according to which only 18% of public spending on post-Covid-19 recovery is considered sustainable at a planetary level.
According to Michele Candotti, however, the response to Covid-19 offers at least “four opportunities in order to avoid celebrating the end of the earth” and to strengthen the overall resilience of countries, businesses and the international community.
The first is to address the climate crisis decisively and without further delay. Despite a decline in carbon emissions caused by blockages and disruptions to international trade and travel, it is estimated that, as economies begin to recover, emissions will rise substantially above warning levels. As a second instance, the need to restore the centrality of international cooperation to address global risks emerges. Thirdly, Candotti notes, it will be appropriate to redirect post-Covid-19 recovery spending to rebuild in a more sustainable manner.
Although there are some promising examples of ecological recovery policies, it should be noted — he continues — that these pertain to a small group of rich countries: what we have today is an unmissable opportunity to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally and align public spending with the objectives of the 2030 Agenda, also in view of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP26), in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12.
Finally, the Director of the UNDP Executive Office stressed, the attempt to reduce conflict between human and natural systems should be potentiated, to address critical and long-standing issues such as deforestation, illegal and poorly regulated trade in wildlife, intensive agriculture and unsustainable supply chains of raw materials.
An imbalance that can no longer be ignored
Speaking of agriculture, the Director of the Executive Office of the UN Development Programme pointed out that “80% of land-use change is related to agriculture and that 24,000 animal and plant species out of 28,000 are at risk of extinction due to food systems. Among agricultural land, almost 80% is used for livestock and animal feed production. When it comes to marine biodiversity, however, the most impactful factor is overfishing.”
Candotti said that, according to the UN, “we should reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030 compared to 2010 emissions and we should commit to zero net emissions by 2050, as required by the Paris Climate Agreement.”
In short, it’s about acting as soon as possible, according to the agronomist and former General Director of WWF Italy, to stop the Anthropocene’s “extraordinary power of destruction” of our common home.
A challenge that starts from everyday life
Candotti points out that “reality has become much more sophisticated in terms of knowledge and capacity for risk,” and while long-lasting solutions that are sustainable can have an immediate effect of creating shocks in technology, regulations, fiscal policies, etc., political consensus is governed primarily by the short term. Thus, finding a balance between transformations necessary with long-term policies and the management of shocks and short-term consequences can prove complex.
It is, therefore, a matter of rethinking one’s actions and, from a collective perspective, worrying about how we want to establish relations among each other to deal with global problems that spare no one and where globality is revealed both in a spatial and temporal dimension. “Spatial because everything we do anywhere on the planet has very obvious and severe local repercussions, but also temporal in that every decision we make today has a repercussion on our neighbours and on future generations,” Candotti added, suggesting that we should “reinvest in forming the consciousness of citizens as citizens of a global world,” without becoming discouraged, as the mission is not impossible.
“This is a unique moment,” he remarked, “which requires a new narrative, a new approach: the same inspiration provided to us by Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato sí.” A concrete effort not to give up and resign ourselves to be the last generation of the Anthropocene.
* Cube Radio — Salesian University Institute of Venice and Verona