COVID-19 and Sustainability


Even before the coronavirus came into our lives and changed everything, the world was already facing the serious issue of climate change which continues today. This is a space to educate ourselves and learn more about the connection between the COVID-19 pandemic and its environmental impact. We will also be exploring how our response to the coronavirus can inspire us to a sustainable and resilient future.

What are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations?

The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace, and justice (United Nations). Check out a list of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Since the pandemic started, many of these goals have been impacted, many of which are highlighted below:

Good Health

Even before the crisis, the world was off track to ensuring healthcare for everybody by 2030. Now, the impressive gains made in recent years—declining infant and maternal mortality rates, turning the tide on HIV/AIDS, and halving malaria deaths—are threatened. We are now facing alarming setbacks, not just from the disease itself, but from the knock-on effects of breaks in vaccination campaigns.

Global Citizen highlights that hospitals worldwide have been overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 patients, and the people who suffer from other illnesses are not prioritized. The new neglection of patients with other illnesses comes in the midst of most governments lacking the funds to enrich their health care systems.

Gender Equality

Global Citizen further states that women are without a doubt more affected by the virus than men. Women make up the majority of health workers and frontlines of the pandemics and are therefore at a greater risk of contracting the coronavirus. In addition, as the majority of the population is ordered to stay at home, women are more vulnerable to be victims of domestic abuse now more than ever.

No hunger

COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses in global food supply chains. And it has pushed fragile countries, such as Yemen, where, despite humanitarian assistance, 15.9 million wake up hungry every day, push millions more into further distress.

No poverty

Rapid economic progress in India and China has lifted millions out of poverty, but as of 2015, about 736 million people still lived on less than US$1.90 a day.

Now, Oxfam estimates that the crisis could push half a billion people back into poverty.

SDG 1 is the bedrock of the goals. The crisis has made this goal more challenging but also presents an opportunity to completely revolutionize development.

Decent work

About 1.6 billion people work in the informal sector and the International Labor Organization (ILO) reports that they are in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed. The ILO reports that more than one in six young people have lost their jobs since the pandemic began and those that are still at work have seen their hours reduced.

Quality education

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates about 1.25 billion students are affected by lockdowns. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates 86 percent of primary school children in developing countries are not being educated.

UNDP estimates that closing the digital divide would reduce by more than two-thirds the number of children not learning because of school closures.

Strong institutions

At least 18 national elections and referendums have already been postponed. Sometimes this can lead to an increased risk of public unrest. Governments, particularly in fragile contexts, are under unparalleled pressure to deliver digital services and social protection. They are also pushed to function in ways that advance social cohesion while upholding human rights and the rule of law.

Learn more about how the SDGs are impacted by the coronavirus and check out this video by Global Citizen.

A large number of the workers most affected by the pandemic are females. Women are experiencing inequality in their daily lives, including their workplace. Fixing gender inequality is essential for building a strong foundation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals post-covid-19.

Many people have been lucky enough to continue their job remotely. However, this is not the case for all – working remotely is impossible for many people working in sectors like accommodation and food services, real estate, business and administrative activities, manufacturing, and wholesale/retail trade. According to data by UN Women, 41 percent of women workers worldwide work in these sectors.

Women compromise 70 percent of the global health workforce, at the front lines of response. Therefore, they carry a higher risk of catching and transmitting the virus, putting themselves and their families at risk.

Moreover, due to lockdowns, violence, including domestic violence against women, has escalated. Even women fortunate enough to continue their work from their home’s comfort might come across other significant challenges like domestic violence. Violence can be hard to spot, and now that the focus worldwide is on the pandemic, it can be even harder.

Increasing access to resources and opportunities for women is crucial not only for them to become more independent but to also have the ability to improve their lives and their households. Women will be able to participate in a structural change that will lead to a sustainable, balanced, and inclusive growth. The increase of women in institutions and intergenerational development outcomes will ensure recovery and resilience post-COVID-19 and will contribute in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Based on research addressed by the Global Ag Media, if women farmers had the same access to productive resources as men, the crop yields could increase by 20 to 30% and the total agricultural output by 1.5%, resulting in lifting 100 to 150 million people out of hunger. Supporting equal opportunities for men and women means striving for the greater good.

Learn more about the role of women as drivers of economic recovery and resilience during and after the pandemic.

Ever since the coronavirus came into our lives in March 2020, we have seen rapid structural changes for the world to adapt to a safer space for everyone. Governments have taken immediate actions, factories and companies have shut down, and there has been constant scientific research on battling the virus. Read Bill Gate’s reflection on the lessons of COVID-19 that can help us approach climate change as another future global crisis, get informed about the consequences of inaction, and be prepared to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

  1. Let science and innovation lead the way.

Just as we need tests, vaccines, and treatments to fight the virus, we will need tools to fight climate change. We will need multiple disciplines in biology, chemistry, physics, political science, economics, engineering, and other sciences for a comprehensive response to climate change. Therefore investment in science is necessary.

  1. Make sure solutions work for poor countries too.

It seems like both COVID-19 and a climate change crisis will hurt the poorest people in the world the most. The overall average death rate of covid-19 will obscure an enormous disparity between rich and poor countries. Climate change is also expected to dramatically increase death rates in poor countries near or below the Equator, where temperatures are expected to increase dramatically.

Organizations like GAVI will make sure that the coronavirus vaccine will reach the poorest people in the world. Unfortunately, there’s no such organization or movement for clean energy. Governments, inventors, and entrepreneurs around the world need to focus on making green technologies cheap enough that developing countries will be able to afford them.

  1. Start now.

The coronavirus vaccine has been developed in less than one year. On the other hand, there is not a short fix for climate change – it will take decades to develop and deploy all the clean-energy inventions that are needed. What we need is a plan to avoid a climate disaster; this plan can include current resources like zero-carbon tools, developing and deploying innovations, and making sure the poorest have the resources that are necessary to adapt to the temperature increase.

These are Bill Gate’s three lessons that this pandemic can teach us about battling a global crisis to be better informed and prepared to combat another more significant concern: climate change.

The following text contains selected information from this article from February 7, 2021, regarding the Covid-19 vaccine.

Poorer countries are once again victims of inequality. As of now, developed countries are expected to vaccinate their population a lot sooner than developing countries.

Apart from this phenomenon being a social issue, it also contributes to prolonging the pandemic, which is what the world is fighting against. Ralph Mupita, the president and CEO of MTN Group (Africa’s largest mobile network operator), specifically stated that if the developed markets get vaccinated, but the underdeveloped markets don’t, the problem is not solved.

Fortunately, it is still early enough to fix the situation and rebound on rich countries that are gobbling up on the share of the vaccines.

Private sector steps up

MTN recently accounted for its donation of $25 million to the African Union’s vaccination program, which aims to vaccinate 60% of the continent’s population within the next two or three years. This proportion is significant as the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that if immunity takes longer, COVID-19 will become endemic.

The mining giant Anglo American pledged $30 million towards the vaccine rollout in countries where it operates, with $10 million of that cash going to South Africa’s program.

However, donations can’t fix the barrier of vaccine production that is preventing rollouts worldwide – and effectively pushing poorer countries to the back of the queue.

Vaccine inequality

The three biggest COVID-19 vaccine producers have plans to produce enough vaccines to cover 1.5% of the global population this year, while richer countries like those in the European Union have already secured enough doses to vaccine their population twice. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines remain to be too expensive for many poor countries to afford.

This situation is morally unfair and extremely dangerous as unvaccinated populations could provide fertile ground for new COVID-19 mutations. A suggested solution by the alliance is the suspension of intellectual property rules that restrain other producers from manufacturing the vaccines that are known to be effective.

Intellectual property

The World Health Organization launched the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (CTAP) as technology and patent repository for companies that produce effective vaccines to contribute and share their know-how so that other manufactures can produce more affordable but equally effective vaccines. AstraZeneca responded to the question and enabled access to the vaccine in up to 190 countries, and more than a dozen generic pharmaceutical companies have jumped into the pool. Other, bigger manufacturers whose contributions are needed did not follow with a response which is disappointing as Pfizer is expected to make around $4 billion in profits from its COVID-19 vaccine this year. Silverman argues that since the vaccines’ development drew on public funding, the results should be public goods.

While a few developing countries have requested parts of the TRIPS Agreement to be waived until the world’s population has developed immunity from the virus – the U.S., the U.K., the EU, and other rich countries have rejected it. However, Charles Michel, the European Council President, and Peter Sltmair, the German Economy Minister, have both recently indicated support for the compulsory licensing of intellectual property regarding the vaccine.

Vaccine diplomacy

Under President Joe Biden, the United States is joining the COVAX initiative and is planning on offering its unneeded doses to poorer countries. However, Oxfam’s Silverman warns against relying on this largesse as governments’ deals with the pharma giants have been shrouded in secrecy. There is a lack of transparency preventing the public from having full knowledge of what these agreements are. He specifically states that “It’s especially galling as this is public money, but the public has no visibility. It’s hard to rely on the beneficence of rich countries to get out of the crisis, in this deeply inequitable system.”

While some steps have been taken to fix the vaccine inequality, there are still too many things that need to be done to trust the system. One thing we know for sure is that change is possible.

Deutsche Welle (DW) being Germany’s international broadcaster and one of the most successful media outlets worldwide has shared information on travel, as it is one of the hardest-hit sectors in the coronavirus pandemic. Surprisingly, due to the pandemic, there has been a growing demand for more sustainable travel options.

Sustainable travel is a trend that has been around for years, but the pandemic has created a greater awareness of sustainable travel as people are in a situation where they have to rediscover travel for themselves and realize the added value in this type of travel. Louree Maya, the founder of Kynder, stated “I think the pandemic has given people time to consider travel and sustainability and how they want to do things differently going forward.”

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) called for a “responsible recovery of the tourism sector” with the intention to “balance the needs of people, the planet and prosperity.” The coronavirus became a motive for people to rethink the influence of current types of travel on over-tourism and climate protection. Some issues that have impacted humans into considering more sustainable travel options are overcrowded cities, environmental degradations, and high CO2 from air travel. recently published the results of a global report in which it was found that 53 percent of global travelers wanted to travel more sustainably in the future as the pandemic has introduced them to human’s impact on the environment.

The summer of 2020 gave us a glimpse of what sustainability could look like; people opted for vacation in their home country versus abroad, the number of flights and cruises decreased while the demand for camper vans and motorhomes increased. Also, due to the pandemic, travelers preferred vacation homes or campsites to hotels for their vacation, mostly for hygienic reasons. The result of choosing alternative accommodation to hotels was improved carbon footprint by reduced water consumption and waste production. It is likely that the summer of 2021 will be similar for the travel sector as many countries are hesitantly opening their borders, and it is another chance to discover the potential of future sustainable travel.

On the other hand, a trouble the sustainable tourism sector is facing is the lack of options. In Germany, only about 2-5% of tourism is certified as sustainable. MyCabin, a German startup is trying to make a change by connecting nature-loving travelers with suitable hosts. An example is a farmer making his or her meadow available to hikers and campers.

Sustainable tourism has still a long way to go before it is known and used internationally. It is important for people to take the chance and try alternative tourism options such as sustainable tourism and share their experiences. Madeker of the German Travel agency DRV, states that while the change in awareness must involve everyone, the industry needs to lead the way. Madekler encourages companies to use the pandemic as an opportunity to make travel more sustainable and crisis-proof for future generations.

Check out this article to find more initiatives related to sustainable tourism that was inspired by the coronavirus pandemic.

We have already spent more than a year living through a pandemic and we are getting used to some changes that the coronavirus brought to our lives. One of the biggest changes for many of us is work – a big number of individuals are fully accustomed to working from home now. It seems like many sectors prefer to keep having their employees work from home as this new way of working has brought several benefits to both the companies and the employees. The pandemic is expected to bring many changes that will affect different work sectors long-term.

According to research by McKinsey & Company, 20 to 25 percent of the workforce in advanced economies could work remotely for at least three to five days a week without decreasing the level of productivity. This change which represents four to five times more remote work than pre-pandemic is also expected to impact the geography of work as more individuals and companies shift out of larger cities into suburbs. Some tasks of these jobs that would be better done in-person include negotiations, critical business decisions, brainstorming sessions, providing sensitive feedback, and onboarding new employees.

Unlike tourism which is likely to rebound after the pandemic, business travel is expected to be drastically decreased. Individuals are overall more accepting and comfortable with videoconferencing and virtual meetings. It is estimated that about 20 percent of business travel may not return. This is a significant number not just for airlines themselves, but for commercial aerospace, airports, hospitality, and foodservice.

Automation and Artificial intelligence (AI) are being adopted at a fast pace and e-commerce is here to stay. Work environments with high levels of human contact are expected to be the first ones to see the implementation of automation and AI. Grocery stores, call centers, warehouses, and manufacturing plants are increasingly using AI to minimize office density and deal with demand spikes.

People are accustomed to online shopping and many prefer the comfort of running errands from home. Technologies like virtual transactions, online banking, and online doctor consultations are likely to decline when the economies reopen but may continue well above the levels they were before the pandemic. Due to the growth of e-commerce, jobs in warehousing and transporting may increase. Next, as populations age and there is increased attention to health, the demand for workers in the healthcare and STEM occupations is bound to grow more than before the pandemic.

The employment related to these sectors will not remain the same. It is estimated that the workers that will be hit the hardest by the pandemic, in the long run, are the ones in customer sales and service roles, as well as less-skilled office support roles. In the United States, the jobs in food service and customer service could fall by 4.3 million while the jobs in transportation could grow by nearly 800,000.

Check out this article for more information and facts on how the coronavirus is affecting the work sector.

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Refugees around the world are already battling violence, family separation, culture loss, and exile, and now the coronavirus pandemic is another serious threat for them to face. Refugees are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 as they live in environments that raise their risk of infection disproportionately. Preventative measures such as social distancing and adequate hand hygiene are almost impossible in heavily inhabited refugee camps.

In overcrowded refugee camps and host communities, a COVID-19 outbreak could not only exhaust medical resources but also increase deaths from infectious diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis. It is expected that patients of both an infectious disease and COVID-19 could potentially have poorer treatment outcomes.

Language barriers are an issue that oftentimes makes refugees avoid healthcare out of fear of getting deported. Another fear of refugees is isolation from family, which explains why aid workers in Rohingya camps in Bangladesh reported minimal testing among people with symptoms of COVID-19. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, only 32,000 of the world’s 26 million refugees have been registered as infected by the virus. Next, the stigma associated with COVID-19 is a major barrier to prevention and treatment for refugees. Care providers serving refugees are encouraged to take into consideration the influence of stigma and make sure to dispel fears and misconceptions regarding the virus.

The mental health of refugees could be at risk as government finances have been strained by the pandemic and government support is limited. Most refugees do not have a job to return to after the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and therefore are not eligible for government funding. Governments, public health professionals, and organizations are encouraged to act and try to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among refugees whose vulnerabilities place them at great risk of mortality as mental health conditions can complicate refuges’ integration.

According to research conducted by the Norwegian Refugee Council in 14 countries, including a study of 1,400 refugees and crisis-affected residents, a whopping 77% of respondents have lost their jobs or income since the pandemic began. Due to the loss of income, food insecurity has drastically increased among refugees and a lot of people living in conflict areas reported that they were more concerned about hunger than about being killed by the disease.

With the limited resources available, institutions and professionals treating refugees should consider prioritizing screening vulnerable subgroups in order to better handle comorbidities, and motivate patients to minimize high-risk behavior. Humanitarian organizations that work with refugees stress the importance of global funding for hosting countries so that they can continue to provide cooperation, humanitarian services, and economic assistance. For a sustainable future post-pandemic, the most vulnerable people need to be included in vaccine rollouts and economic recovery plans.

Check out the World Heath Organization and the Norwegian Refugee Council to learn more about how refugees have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.