Leveraging 'People' Power of Sustainability
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Dr. Jayantee Mukherjee Saha
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The past couple of years have been extraordinarily fast-paced, complex and exceptionally uncertain. Though, the world was somewhat halted due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the consequent changes in the workplace and society were evolutionary. Decisions were to be taken at an extremely fast pace in order to cope with these extraordinary changes that were taking place around the world- perhaps impacting every single of its inhabitants. From the usage of drones in retail to rescue and security operations, the application of AI in sectors ranging from agriculture to astronomy, working from home and the changing infrastructure and facility management, to the emerging online-learning/distance education and more. As workplace and society, we are constantly changing and evolving. There is chaos aplenty. But is such chaos a tangled web or a precondition to reset and order?
The outbreak of COVID-19 has made a global catastrophic situation that, as on February 2021 caused 2.6 million deaths out of 117 million infections. Recent research estimates that extreme poverty could rise to over 1 billion people globally as a result of the pandemic (UNU, 2020).
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated a 3.5 percent contraction in global GDP in 2020—the deepest global recession since the Second World War and the World Trade Organization (WTO) predicted a significant decline in the volume of global trade in 2020 which is expected to rebound around mid-2021 but may still remain below the pre-pandemic level (WTO, 2020; IMF, 2021).
But, were we not expecting anything of this gravity? It is interesting to note, spread of infectious diseases has been featuring in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report since the past many years. WEF had been emphasizing on the possibility of a widespread disaster due to the spread of infectious diseases leading to widespread fatalities and economic disruption (WEF, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021). Does this mean that collectively, we looked at other immediate challenges that were bothering us during that particular period of time while ignoring the looming ones?
We are now talking about how the pandemic would negatively impact the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development- a resolution adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2015 that is focused around achieving 17 goals within 15 years and is applicable for all countries on Earth and all of its inhabitants. The preamble notes, “We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world on to a sustainable and resilient path. As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind”.
COVID-19 laid bare many structural deficiencies and has proved to be the biggest stress test of international conflict and co-operation of the modern day. Gig-economy suffered a huge loss. Digital divide came to the spotlight. Mounting geopolitical confrontation clearly revealed that even though we are in this together, we are actually not in this together.
This pandemic period was not completely negative though. For instance, in the first half of 2020, due to reduced economic activity consequent lower energy demands, huge drop in the CO2 emission, to the tune of 1551 million tonnes was recorded (Science Daily, 2020). Restricted access to workplace and working from home has resulted in the improvement in work/life balance. Employees’ morale and productivity improved manifold as a result of this situation-induced mass telecommuting. While on the other hand, employers saved a significant amount of real estate and other general office expenses, to cite a few examples (Forbes, 2020).
The above prompts one question- is chaos a tangled web? Or, is it no evil but a precondition to recognize the structural issues and challenges that lie dormant unless situation brings them out in light. At this juncture, I am reminded of Carl Jung’s quote which perhaps aptly articulates the situation, “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order”.
Forbes (2021), Coronavirus silver lining a better work-life balance, Available online at <https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomspiggle/2020/10/14/coronavirus-silver-lining-a-better-work-life-balance/?sh=33b0ae051fc2>
International Monetary Fund (IMF 2020), World Economic Outlook Update, January 2021 Available online at <https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2021/01/26/2021-world-economic-outlook-update>
Science Daily (2020), Biggest carbon dioxide drop: Real-time data show COVID-19's massive impact on global emissions, Avaiable online at <https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201014082806.htm>
United Nation University (UNU) (2020), COVID-19 Could Drive Global Poverty to over One Billion People Poverty, Health, Economic Development Avaiable online at <https://unu.edu/news/news/covid-19-could-drive-global-poverty-back-over-one-billion-people.html>
World Trade Organization (WTO 2021), Trade shows signs of rebound from COVID-19, recovery still uncertain Available online at <https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/pres20_e/pr862_e.htm#:~:text=World%20merchandise%20trade%20volume%20is,below%20the%20pre%2Dcrisis%20trend>