Collectively facing COVID-19 and climate change
G20 Issue

Collectively facing COVID-19 and climate change

The stakes are high in our need to resolve the dual challenges of COVID-19 and climate change, and we cannot afford the continued fracturing of global growth and stability. Here, the G20 can and must resuscitate collective action

The world looks much different than it did a short time ago. We now face two massive concurrent threats to humanity, threats that do not recognise passports or borders, allies or enemies.

COVID-19 is both a health crisis, for which we must find a vaccine and adequate treatments, and an economic crisis. The accelerating threat that climate change poses to our survivability is evident at all levels. On each front, ensuring equitable access to remedies and support for all is a moral and economic imperative.

How can we respond effectively? The G20, representing 85% of the world’s gross domestic product and at least 74% of global carbon emissions, is where the battle plans must be laid and from which collective action must come.

On COVID-19 and its consequences, the G20 can help ensure that the World Health Organization is the body designated to provide global oversight and has the capacity to organise, if necessary, the delivery of vaccines and treatments where needed. Support enables it to perform in-depth health research, working with research institutes the world over. To this end, the G20 should see that it is provided with financial support by way of a member’s quota based on its gross domestic product, the same way the International Monetary Fund is funded.

Not the last pandemic

COVID-19 is the fourth pandemic in the past century – and there will be more. We should have learned this lesson and cannot afford to be blindsided again. We do not yet know what the next pandemic will be and what tools will be needed. For this reason, we must make sure that our industries are ready for overnight conversion: manufacturers must be ready to adapt to health technologies, clothing factories must be prepared to adapt to provide protective clothing. If we are to save critical time in the next pandemic, G20 members must show global leadership now.

In the same vein, we should consider that engineering the global economic recovery from COVID-19 provides the opportunity to factor in the environment as a matter of both good climate policy and sound economic policy.

And that brings us to the second great threat we face.

Responding effectively to climate change means setting out solid climate plans, country by country, and demonstrating a global commitment to each other and to the United Nations’ target of no more than a 1.5°C rise in temperature.

To reach this goal, the G20 must support the UN’s initiatives. From the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UN has proven its capability to ensure compelling research, to support countries in need and to organise collective targets. The G20 was created to support the world’s great multilateral institutions. In the face of climate change, it must strengthen its support for the UN’s work.

Admittedly, achieving consensus at the G20 is not easy. Neither COVID-19 nor climate change can be solved by a single summit. But for the Riyadh Summit, the leaders should agree to set a strong and immediate agenda that will evolve over the next three years, through the Italian and Indian presidencies. As well, G20 ministerial meetings must play a substantive role to follow through on agendas and maintain momentum between summits. Ministers who live with the issues daily should set the course for the work ahead by collaborating, implementing and reporting, which will ensure success at the Italian summit in 2021 and the Indian one in 2022.

Sidelining power clashes

COVID-19 and climate change will only be resolved if we face them collectively. Therein lies the great challenge of the Riyadh Summit: we must sideline today’s geopolitical power clashes. The world cannot afford them – the stakes are too high. The G20 table enables leaders to engage in open discussions, which can mediate differences as the basis for a strong global response from all members. Now is the time to begin that discussion.

World history has featured clashes between countries, but today we find ourselves in a common battle for the survival of humankind. COVID-19 and climate change are blind to borders: they are forces that will immobilise us, country by country, again and again, unless we are able to work together collectively. The global growth and stability we have built since 1945 have been slowly fracturing, and COVID-19 and climate change have revealed the undeniable depth of the fracture. The G20 can and must resuscitate collective action, beginning with Riyadh.