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Global dialogue on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis: Building Back Better Aligned to the SDGs and the Paris Agreement

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An early glimpse of the future

The COVID-19 crisis provides an early glimpse of how the climate and biodiversity crises will afect the world. The impacts of the pandemic and economic lockdown have led to a stark decline in development gains, disproportionately afecting low-income and vulnerable households, communities and countries. Disparities have sharpened within countries and between developed and developing countries; the latter has experienced a “perfect storm” of unemployment, capital fight, loss of remittances, and increasing debt leading to the largest economic contraction in decades.

Though slower in onset, the climate and biodiversity crises will ultimately be deeper and broader in impact, undercutting our ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Moreover, these crises are interlinked; the shrinking space between natural and human systems is one of the root causes for zoonotic pandemics.

Yet the lockdown demonstrated extraordinary interventions are possible. Safeguarding human health was put at the center of policymaking and public investment. And we experienced a diferent world, a postcard from the future: cleaner air and water, less trafc and noise, and often more engagement with community, family and nature. While the severe pain of the crisis must not be underestimated, these experiences can help us envision the future we want.
Building an inclusive, green and resilient recovery is now an urgent and shared global challenge. We must build back in a way that addresses the very signifcant near-term challenges of unemployment, food insecurity and jump-starting the economy, while tackling the underlying drivers of climate change and biodiversity loss. Because stimulus packages are emerging at lightning speed and the power of incumbency and inertia is strong, we need to quickly build public and political support for change.

It is essential to shift from snapshot to transition thinking. We should consider three categories for the recovery: the industries and technologies of the future (such as renewable energy, electric vehicles, and sustainable agriculture) that must be accelerated; those of the past (such as coal power) that must be phased out; and those in transition (such as steel, automotive and aviation) that must be shifted toward transformation. While recovery eforts will likely be uneven and extend over several years, the critical timeframe for action is the next 15 months, as countries invest $10-20 trillion or more for relief and recovery. How countries and the international community pursue the recovery will determine the climate and sustainable development trajectory for the coming decade.