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China Daily Global / 2020-09 / 16 / Page013

Moment of truth

By HANS D'ORVILLE | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-09-16 00:00

Pandemic has laid bare the vulnerabilities inherent in today's hyper-connected global economy and the need for new forms of multilateral and global cooperation

The world is battling the global health crisis, including the economic and social ramifications. It is also racing against the clock to avoid the environmental and climate crisis which is virtually around the corner. The pandemic has shown us the importance of being prepared when crises hit. It has also shown us that postponing bold decisions can have huge costs. We were not prepared for the crisis, and we are even less prepared for the looming consequences of ongoing and worsening challenges such as climate change, biodiversity collapse, life-shortening air pollution and ocean acidification.

The Belt and Road Initiative is an example of the new form of focused multilateralism needed to deliver an effective collective response to global crises. But there is a need for the formation of networks devoted to integrating economic, social, environmental and cultural considerations into the Belt and Road Initiative. The countries and communities involved must initiate concrete steps to enhance solidarity and cooperation in response to long-term challenges such as climate change or pandemics.

Such networks, coalitions or alliances have an innate ability to promote the creation and sharing of cultural resources and the innovation and development of technology, to help accelerate progress in carrying out the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and in the process promote the recovery of the world economy.

At the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in April last year, President Xi Jinping stated that the initiative needed to "promote green infrastructure construction, green investment, green finance, and protect the common home for the sake of human survival".

Today, over 100 international and Chinese partner institutions are already part of the Belt and Road Initiative International Green Development Coalition (BRIGC)-which could be further expanded. The BRIGC aims to help governments integrate sustainable development considerations throughout the design, execution, and long-term implementation of Belt and Road projects.

The BRIGC serves as a platform for policy dialogue and communication, as well as for exchanging data and other information on ecological conservation, environmental protection, and the prevention and mitigation of pollution. Through nine thematic partnerships, the coalition works on facilitating cooperation on green technology, including on its exchange and transfer.

The pandemic is both a tragedy and a chance for humanity to examine what is essential for our future life and existence. The pursuit of unbridled consumerism and an obsession with productivity and economic growth have led us to deny the value of life itself: that of plants, animals and human beings.

As the health crisis abates and comes under control, the principal question will become how to restart the economy and generate jobs, while dealing with the looming challenges of climate change and ecological decay. This is particularly relevant for the Belt and Road Initiative. We need to commit to a low-carbon recovery. We need to stop building new infrastructure and capital assets that will lock in carbon-intensive systems as they will in turn undermine long-term climate objectives. Any support provided to companies should be increasingly accompanied by stronger environmental standards.

Better air quality, water and sanitation, biodiversity, and waste management-all addressed by the 17 SDGs-can reduce the vulnerability of communities to future pandemics and at the same time strengthen resilience to other types of risks-including climate-related ones. We must also include a gender angle in our strategies and actions, and focus our support on the most vulnerable countries.

To this end, we must systematically integrate environmental and equity considerations as well as cultural dimensions into the economic recovery and stimulus process. We must support an inclusive, low-emissions and resilient recovery in the post-pandemic world.

Since Hippocrates health and living spaces have always been in dialogue. And the pandemic will modify the appearance and physiognomy of cities as adjustments are made to facilitate social distancing.

With exponential development of modern medical science and the hope for the speedy development of vaccines, there is a need to answer the question of how to evaluate the theory and practice of medical science so that traditional methods can become a treasure house for a community of shared health of mankind.

We must further build platforms for social entrepreneurs and corporate leaders to gather and explore matters related to ecological responsibilities in the era of modified economic globalization. Chambers of commerce may also be important drivers of change, utilizing their resources as a bridge for Belt and Road development and designing new rules of engagement. Dialogues between different civilizations must become an integral part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Future multilateralism must comprise the search for global solutions to shared challenges in the areas of health, environment and social problems. Based on scientific knowledge and advice, we need to initiate feasible, deliverable and effective actions, not pay merely declaratory lip service. There is clearly a dire need to develop an early-warning system for zoonotic diseases and to stockpile remedies, medical equipment and personal protection tools in regional or sub-regional centers.

Similarly, scientists from all Belt and Road countries could be brought together for a cooperative effort supporting vaccine development and production capacity. This would place entire regions on a stronger footing to cope with large-scale disease outbreaks in the future.

We will not succeed in overcoming the sickness that is upon us, unless we tackle the root causes of it-a mere tinkering to alleviate the symptoms will not do. We must respect nature as well as development. Above all, we must create an ecological society based on eco-civilizational precepts.


The author is former assistant director-general for Strategic Planning of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and chairman at the Advisory Committee of the International Center for Creativity and Sustainable Development (ICCSD), Beijing.

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