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COVID-19: Lessons for solving the more destructive environmental crisis

It's never late to learn.

This text is a transcription of  Sasha Bezuhanova’s opening remarks at “The Big Change: COVID-19 and Climate Change”, organised by MOVE.BG. Sasha Bezuhanova is the founder of MOVE.BG, a platform for value creators and a think-and-do tank for innovative solutions looking for workable ideas for social transformation, forging pathways into sustainable development and enabling a culture of constructive dialogue and participatory leadership. Watch the full recording of the discussion (Bulgarian) here.

Sasha Bezuhanova (Credit: MOVE.BG)

Sasha Bezuhanova is the initiator of EDIT.BG, founder of the yearly Entrepregirl Award for supporting young women to develop their entrepreneurial ideas into a business, Chair of the Boards of Bulgarian Center of Women in Technologies, Technical University, co-founder and board member of the Initiative for Social Empowerment and Honorary Board member of Junior Achievement Bulgaria. Sasha was named Digital woman of Europe for 2013 and one of the Top 100 Challengers in New Europe 100 for 2015.

Hello friends!

I am glad that you have chosen to join us in this extremely important discussion today on the effects of the coronavirus on the equally significant crisis of climate change and endangered biodiversity.

Why do I consider this conversation important?

COVID-19 has “closed” the world in an unprecedented way and focused all of our attention on the leaders and societies in search of solutions to limit the effects of the pandemic. This new situation put in standstill the effort of different stakeholders to address urgent global issues such as climate change and disrupted environmental balance.

COVID climate change
All across the world, commercial centres and other activities have come to a grinding halt. (Credit: Photoheuristic)

The results of unscrupulous human intervention in nature are known – global warming and greenhouse gas increase in the atmosphere, 80% deforestation on the planet and 50% reduction in biomass in less than 100 years, disturbed animal habitats, the emergence of new diseases. COVID-19 itself, after HIV, Ebola, and SARS, is another virus transmitted to humans from wildlife and a direct result of many years of gross human intervention in natural ecosystems.

“The world’s experience in managing the global coronavirus crisis can and must be applied to solve the environmental crisis.”

2020 looked like the year in which significant long-awaited transformational policy decisions will finally be made, related to climate challenges and dramatically disturbed balances in nature. However, the coronavirus crisis has put them at risk:

– The Green Deal for Europe, from today’s perspective, seem shaky.

– The annual UN Climate Conference – COP26 – has been cancelled

– The Convention on Biological Diversity Conference, considered the most important event of the decade on the topic of biodiversity conservation, was also cancelled. It was due to take place in October in Kinming, China, and set global goals for nature conservation.

The EU’s upcoming decisions will be crucial to drive change through development (Credit: European Parliament)

Still, could the COVID-19 crisis prove to be the right catalyst for mobilizing the world to address other significant risks to our lives in the future – namely climate change and environmental imbalances? This is a scenario that is worth appreciating and supporting. There are encouraging signs and initiatives to support this:

– A European Alliance for Green Recovery has been set up, with 180 political leaders and environmental activists calling for increased investment in Europe’s post-crisis green development and calling for a clear plan for a “new model of prosperity” based on sustainability and biodiversity protection. 17 EU environment ministers have called for a green recovery in Europe to reduce the costs and risks of inaction on the climate and eco-crisis, referring to the experience of COVID-19. Commissioner Timmermans has made it clear that we do not have to pay the price twice: to restore the traditional economy because of the coronavirus crisis and to turn it green after that.

– In their most recent statements, Angela Merkel, Antonio Guterres and Ursula von der Leyen have urged national governments not to abandon programs to transform their economies from grey to green and use the economic crisis to reform.

– Alongside familiar formats, a new format of activism within the companies is gaining energy with pressure from employees to introduce sustainable practices and processes in their activities. Unlike the traditional demands of higher wages, they unite the vote for climate-friendly reorganizations in the companies where they work. There are large-scale shares in global corporations such as Google, Wells Fargo and others.

Last but not least, with the rapid expansion of digital culture due to work in an environment of social isolation, high-tech green businesses (greentech), as well as digital-based solutions in the field of climate and biodiversity, get a good chance for development and introduction.

The world’s experience in managing the global coronavirus crisis can and must be applied to solve the environmental crisis.

Therefore, urgent action is needed today in the same scale of engaging leadership, academic resources and communities to prevent effects of a potentially more destructive nature than that of the virus. It requires significant political acts and economic reforms, but also our collective wisdom and commitment to provide financial, media and economic mechanisms. Last but not least, it requires a change in our personal habits to live with the understanding and responsibility that the Earth gives us life, food and environment for development. That she is our home.

Watch the full recording of the discussion (Bulgarian) here with Veselina Kavrakova – environmentalist and environmental activist, CEO of WWF Bulgaria, Lubomila Jordanova, founder and CEO of Plan A, and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Hussein Yemendzhiev – Lecturer at the University of Burgas in the field of environmental biotechnology. He is also the founder of the startup Enova H2O: the water quality monitoring company.

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