A Sustainable Future Post-COVID19
Our Commissioner and UK representative to the UNECE, Prof Daniella Tilbury, reflects upon the impact of Covid-19 on climate change, sustainable development and our collective future.
As spring arrives on the Rock, it is tempting to talk about ‘exit plans’, ‘green shoots’ and getting ‘back to normal’. However, it does not take long before the realisation hits that we will almost certainly not go back to the same state of mind, or affairs. Our sense of security has been fractured with recent events prompting so many questions about the things that we have taken for granted. Our routine and our work practices have been disrupted and likely to be changed in the longer term. The shocks to the system, that we are experiencing now, demonstrate what is possible when we need to respond united and urgently. I argue that we should take this moment to ask some big questions; to explore lessons learnt and to reset our expectations for the future.
As I write these words, I realise that for some, this crisis will harden whatever views they previously held, but for others, it will open up new frames and possibilities.
In this article I pose three questions and invite our community to reflect on the future it wants:
Q. What impact is Covid- 19 having on Climate Change?
There are signs that the environment is benefitting from the temporary pause of carbon-intensive activities such as travel, with data suggesting that Gibraltar’s air quality has improved significantly over the last 4 weeks due primarily to restrictions of movement. However, the big picture, tells a different story as the Covid-19 crisis has upset the global diplomatic timelines and led to the postponement of CoP26, due to have taken place in Glasgow this November.
A good colleague, Dame Polly Courtis from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, reminded us recently that what we are experiencing now, despite its magnitude, is a mere dress rehearsal for the ecosystem changes that lie ahead and that are likely to be unleashed by climate change. She reminds us that this decade was earmarked for getting our climate on track for net-zero and that it would be a grave mistake to abandon this ambition.
Time will tell whether Covid-19 proved to be a distraction or a catalyst for making progress on the Paris Accord or the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)s, as these commitments now play out in a new paradigm.
It is my hope, that this paradigm will be informed by the recent experience of a united world against a global threat. Covid-19 has reminded us that experts have a role in guiding policy and responses – this is an important and timely reminder as we consider the targets set in the Paris Agreement and recent IPCC reports.
Covid-19 has also reminded us that when we face a threat, clear and strong leadership is needed, but also that we all have a part to play enacting policy and change. HMGOG has declared a climate emergency and committed to a Green Gibraltar. In a post-coved world, this strong leadership is necessary. If we translate other Covid-19 lessons into a climate change context, we understand the need for Gibraltar to continue to adopt green targets, participate in international dialogues for action but also the need to be better informed about the impact of our actions - after all, we must all participate in mitigating climate change.
Q. How is our sense of community being redefined by Covid-19?
The crisis had also revealed the economic dependencies as well as the weaknesses of some parts of our social systems. We are facing a unique moment together, over 7 billion of us, are going through the same experience at the same time. This brings unity, a strong sense of community but also makes us aware of the gulf of inequalities in our societies. The most socially vulnerable and poor are also the most at risk in any crisis – unfortunately, COVID-19 brings to life what sustainability professionals have been advising our global leaders over decades. Locally it has tested our care systems as well as our sense of responsibility.
As we continue to face a post-coved world, many people will be feeling uncertain, anxious and even scared. We are well placed to divert these energies to the development of more resilient and positive trajectories. This moment also provides an opportunity for reflection and reimagination of our future - an opportunity for our leaders to engage more people directly with future scenarios, constructing a joint-up picture that builds a more resilient Gibraltar.
Let’s complement our reactive, responsive and authoritative approaches to crisis management with a community engagement initiative that builds a connected vision of our social, economic and environmental future - and in ways that are meaningful to all. In a small jurisdiction such as ours, it can be done.
Q. What is the Future of Work, Learning and Education in a Post Covid-19?
At the start of 2020, no one could have forseen that more than one billion people were to be confined in their homes. This crisis has accelerated certain trends and triggered changes, forcing us to consider alternative modes of working, learning and engaging with the world. It has highlighted what leading educators have been saying for a long time, that we need to teach 21st Century skills such as resilience, change, and digital literacy.
Amongst these trends is the predominant reliance on internet-based communication for work, e-commerce and electronic payments. Many of our businesses have made creative use of ‘whatsup’ to sustain their trade. Indeed, it was my sister’s birthday last week and I managed to purchase local gifts for her rather easily from home. I have, however, seen first-hand that many of our commercial entities were overwhelmed and struggling to cope with demand as their systems are not fit for home purchasing. Practical support and training are needed from the Chamber, business associations and professional networks to upscale these efforts.
The turbulent times we are experiencing demonstrate how essential it is to reduce the digital divide in our community and how vital it is to build tools for people to transact and safeguard value. After all, despite the restrictions on social movement and the closing of borders, the community (and the world) remain electronically connected.
In addition, learning to change and learning from change have now become vital ingredients of an education system fit for the 21st Century. We need to help people to acquire the knowledge, skills and insights needed to adapt and navigate their way in a rapidly changing world. This form of education is needed not just for the school and university students or those entering the labour markets, but also for those in established businesses and especially for the health, retail, hospitality and travel sectors.
The future we want…
The crisis has created an unprecedented bond between us and brought a resurgence of Gibraltarian values such as unity, dignity and solidarity. This experience can make us a stronger but we must seize the opportunity of this crisis and collectively chart a course towards a more socially inclusive, economically resilient and climate friendly future defined by us.
Covid-19 has also shown us that Gibraltar is no island and that our socio-economic future is linked to our geography as well as our historical alliances. The emerging clarity about our interdependence, about what we value in society and the importance of evidence-led decision-making should inform plans for the future. Resilience has taken on a different meaning of late.