II. How to involve populations in the development of environmental solutions in order to avoid a backlash reaction, and favour a better participation?

For a larger approach of the Covid-19 pandemic & build cooperation for the creation of future environmental solutions.

   Covid-19 has part of a larger trend…

Executive Summary

The Covid-19 has revealed the underlying and longstanding realities of inequalities, racism and poverty a large part of the population is facing. The difficulties silent minorities are experiencing in their daily lives became openly and widely apparent while queuing for food or medical care during the pandemic. Inequalities now become as clear as day in all the countries in both the developed and developing world.

To fight the Covid-19 pandemic will not just require to treat medical consequences in order to slow down and stop the virus dispersion. A more complex approach will be required, taking into account all the consequences of the virus dispersion.

Popular movements have appeared all over the world, to find the right strategies to fight the virus dispersion: facilitate access to testing structures, identify contamination chains to find the potential virus cases and create instruments to facilitate food or healthcare access. Unfortunately, this cooperation will not be sufficient for all the Covid-19 consequences, without taking into account all the economic disruptions and consequences on habits or ways of life.

In the meantime, environmental consequences due to the human behaviour are still evolving and strengthening.

To involve populations in the development of strategies and environmental solutions, would first of all mean to identify the right tools to fight poverty. It would mean to consider difficulties to access labour market and the usual life each one hopes to reach.

Such a cooperation will be essential in a second time, to create, apply and implement the instruments to fight climate change. The right tools and its consequences have to be identified and chosen, to be implemented. In order for the right strategies to be selected, populations and events in their daily life have to be understood.

In a first attempt, governments and administrations committed a sin of naivety while building the answers to climate change issues. Populations rejected the first instruments, considering their usual way of life would be threatened. The first opposition movements were more or less prepared and elaborated or even violent, all across the world. By wearing a “yellow jacket” or raising a protest or angry voice during demonstrations, citizens have expressed their fear to see disappear their usual habits or ways of life. The risk is then for citizens to express this fear and anger during election periods by endangering transition processes, or threatening a peaceful social life.

These global trends create a difference that seems irreconcilable at first. An elaborate, comprehensive by populations, and finally efficient strategy will be required.

The distance between populations and governments that led that to misunderstanding, has to be corrected. This gap between populations and decision or policy makers has to be clearly identified, to be rightly corrected and fixed. The final issue of efficiency could be raised in a second time: the advantages, drawbacks and the cost of bridging the gap. The will of the population to participate could then be used, by employing the right tools. We will examine existing possibilities to build the transition required to prepare and fight climate change consequences, and the potential limits of these measures.

Covid-19: an opportunity for a sanitary and environmental state of affairs?

The current challenging period will require cooperation to imagine innovative solutions for a post-Covid19 economic, social and societal recovery. Innovation will be reached by listening all the voices of the population, while not forgetting minorities and the smaller ones.

The Covid-19 have exacerbated previous and unsolved inequalities citizens were facing in their daily life, even before the Covid-19 appears. The coronavirus crisis is heightening divergences in the food, work and access to health care, all around the world. The urgency is first, to protect billions of people suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic. Food and water accesses are the more visible effects of the pandemic.

             The coronavirus is highlighting more specifically hidden difficulties, which is the access to medical care as being the principal issue faced by populations. An estimated 27.5 million people in the United States do not have access to financial support for cares offered by health insurance, and are not able to access the full medical care required to fight the Covid-19 disease. All the consequences and learning of the pandemic have to be drawn, to share expertise among all the frontline workers.

             The first stage of the pandemic, acting to contain the coronavirus dispersion, has led to a spike in hazardous waste, such as personal protective equipment, electronics and pharmaceuticals; masses of wastewater and massive use of detergents and products. The first task will be to share guidelines with frontline workers, on how to safely dispose medical waste. The meaningful learning of the ways and procedures to dispose such medical waste has to be shared, among health policymakers to make the right decisions. Information and adjustments in the acting strategies has then to be taken, in order to improve efficiency of the strategy. The first immediate sanitary and humanitarian response should not overlook the environmental sustainability, and lead to important quantity of hazardous waste. Dedicated and efficient structures to deal with this important waste quantity, with safe methods and processes, will be required.

             The Covid-19 origins and dispersion are a strong reminder of the importance of a respectful behaviour with the environment. The origins, what is known for the moment up to largest and deeper investigations, are strongly linked with human behaviour, and its consequences on natural habitat. Further investigations are required, but trade in live animals ununworthy conditions seems to be largely responsible in the virus apparition and dispersion. Zoonotic diseases, which passed between animals and humans is an important threat, are for the moment still unknown and not evaluated. With climate change still evolving and strengthening, lessons must be learned of the Covid-19 crisis, to prepare responses in the case a similar virus appears. Again science-based policy options will be the right tool, to reduce and avoid such risks. A global mapping of risks from unregulated and hazardous wildlife trade and habitat destruction will be required, to identify potential threats.

To favour a better participation and support will require a larger approach, trying to reach everyone’s daily life, all along citizens life. Environmental and ecological aspects of the post-Covid recovery plans will be essential. Such initiatives have to be based on commitments made for the adoption under the Paris Agreement, and updated with lessons learnt from the crisis: from a Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, to a Post-2020 Chemicals and Waste Management Framework. Previous processes adopted have to be updated, to take into account consequences of the coronavirus crisis on previous commitments.

Lockdowns and containment strategies has demonstrated the importance of continued learning. An estimated 1 billion students could no longer attend school. Tools, equipment access has to be facilitated to ensure students keep learning, and use containment periods as opportunities to continue their learnings. It can also be understood as opportunities to develop their abilities to learn in a different frame and format. The coronavirus has demonstrated the importance to stay open-minded: older ones had the opportunity to understand why ‘live in the moment’ is essential. Remote communication tools and devices were a key equipment to maintain contact between generations. Video-calling using mobile devices are a solution to keep contact between grandparents and grandchildren, while limiting contact with the weakest ones.

Updated existing funds and initiatives can be a tool for a more efficient and effective recovery. Funds such as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration will help revigorate the economy, by providing jobs, goods and services from and for healthier ecosystems. A ‘Restoration Seed Capital Facility’ will promote life in rural areas. Refocusing job creation and rural employment in priority areas, will help promote areas endangered by the virus dispersion. The key aspect will be work: once jobs move in rural area, inhabitants, business and activities will follow the trend. In the past decades, the lack of communication tool and equipment has weakened the ability and benefit of a life in rural areas. Thanks to the benefit offered by technologies and futures to come with the development of the 5G technology, an ‘usual’ life and economic activity will also be possible in rural areas. Facilitate technology deployment in rural areas will facilitate daily life of the inhabitants, and ability to manage businesses for a company. The Community Based Resilience Fund, with EUR 20 million can be a solution to provide small grants to encourage and stimulate local initiatives, that can then spread among communities.

More specific initiatives can then trigger larger changes and transformations. Guarantee a USD 1 billion fund to the ‘AGRI3’ fund, with conditional loans for farmers will encourage a sustainable agriculture. The innovative character is the private-public cooperation. Encouraging partnership of the UN Environment Program, the private company bank Rabobank, and institutional partners (IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative) with the Dutch development bank FMO, will help developing transition to a sustainable agriculture and bridge the financing gap. In order for the fund to keep operating despite the coronavirus crisis, maintain and adapt the activities, an additional $80million has been allocated to the fund to favour deforestation-free agriculture.

A recovery plan will then be required to consider existing inequalities the Covid-19 has deepened. By ‘greening the economy’, the goal is to involve populations in the solutions development. This goal will be reached, only by considering all the parts involved in life in society. All the actors of the real economy will be reached by rebuilding and accelerating a post-Covid sustainable consumption and production. The evolution trend will then create new jobs to meet the objectives. This strategy requires to make the right policy decisions. The pandemic has required to first, adapt the format of the meetings, using virtual formats to limit interactions. Teams have to be trained to the requirements and limits of such a format, in order to keep operations and projects working as usual as possible.

             Each Sustainable Development Goal will require a different approach in a post-Covid era. More specifically, the Goal 12 to ensure a sustainable consumption and production patterns, will adopt a particular meaning. Each citizen had the opportunity to understand objectives and goals of the importance on how to limit the global material footprint. Lockdowns moments were also opportunities to assess dependencies on polluting modes of transportation, in particular private cars. More particular figures would be meaningful: the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations have decreased by 30% in the Ile-de-France area during the first week of the national lockdown period in France in march 2020, compared to a year earlier. However, these false declines should not hide dependency on others polluting sources: the PM10 emissions due to heating systems are estimated to be the same than a year earlier, without a lockdown period of time. To identify specific solutions to reach objectives in a Goal will require to adopt a more ambitious strategy, while not forgetting involvements on others goals and climate objectives. In the pollution example linked to Covid-19, changes in habits lead to a new dispersion in the pollutant’s types: from NO2 due to diesel engines, to PM10 particles due to heating systems.

             The effects of measures to contain Covid-19 dispersion are a strong reminder that strategies to contain environmental effects, in this example air pollution, will only be efficient if all the consequences are considered. Focusing on a simple type of pollution will not be sufficient.

Solutions to address pollution as a whole have to be considered.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a strong reminder for all the populations of the inter-connectivity of countries and societies across the world.

The difficult moments our countries and societies are living, can be understood as an opportunity for the populations to experiment in their daily lives, the fact that the ways of living in a country directly interfere with each other. The pandemic will be a more meaningful explanation of the ‘butterfly effect’, described by Johann Gottlieb Fichte, in The Vocation of Man (1800): ‘you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby…changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable world’.

Populations have demonstrated, since the beginning of the virus dispersion, their will to imagine solutions, and move forward in order to cope with the phenomena.

In order for the selected tools to be efficient, the strategy has to follow a precise questioning. The limits of the current model have to be identified, in order to select the right strategy to correct the tendency. Then, solutions have to be identified, to be set up in the optimal conditions. Mechanisms to follow the evolution are essential, in order to be able to adapt the strategy if required. The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the ability to adapt selected solutions as being crucial, in a potential rapidly changing environment. The pandemic also gives an opportunity to understand another meaning to the notion of responsibility, by contrast with considering countries where mechanisms to prevent the virus dissemination have not shown effectiveness.

The virus is demonstrating the importance of the ability to adapt to the evolutions, in a fast-changing world and environment. The trend requires for the organisations and governments to be proactive, in order to identify trends among populations that indicate a will to follow, and track opinions and states of mind. This tendency requires a confidence relationship among populations, in order for the projects issued of the populations to be heard, then efficiently and effectively led. In a second time the possibility to implicate populations in the development of environmental and meaningful solutions will be possible: an example would be the ability for the populations in Switzerland to carry out a popular referendum on a specific issue. These specific polls on specific items allow private initiatives from the populations, and to implicate citizens in the public life.

On the contrary, societies where mistrust prevails are demonstrating their failure to organise an efficient response to the Covid-19 issue. In the United States, on the 1st of December 2020, a total of more than about 13 million cases were counted, with 271 000 deaths. This tragedy is largely due to a lack of awareness of the gravity of the crisis by the authorities and the population, that has led to the lack of an appropriate response and strategy to cope with the gravity of the situation. This phenomenon is part of a larger trend of a general distrust, with public voice being questioned, and the inability to carry out society projects requiring the general endorsement. On the opposite, climate change will require to be able to adopt a scientific approach: policies based on data and facts, that can be assessed, tested, questioned; have to be established. The coronavirus crisis will be a strong reminder of the necessity of responsible, more effective and efficient governments and organisations.

A necessary re-assessment to effectively reach environment targets and goals.

             Populations across the world, have expressed during large demonstrations their fear to see their usual way of life and habits disappear. By wearing a ‘yellow jacket’ or expressing protest voices during election processes, populations have expressed their fear of a future where their voices are ineffective.

The current situation due to the Covid-19 dispersion, will require a necessary assessment of the situations, in order to identify the relevant tools and strategies to adopt to cope with the consequences: from sanitary consequences on the short term; to environmental, politic, sanitary with long-term disease support disruption, and economic consequences on the long term.

This questioning will have to be done, not forgetting that populations endorsement will be required.  In order not to be rejected, the strategies selected have to be understood and endorsed by the different actors. This method will be the only effective on the long term, and could be a solution to the fear populations have expressed during the last years, fear that can be sum up by the motto “Fin du mois, fin du monde: même combat” that could be heard during some of these protests in France.

The Paris Agreements have resulted in the creation of a price for carbon, based on 2 principles: setting a tax on carbon dioxide emissions; and creating a carbon market, on which carbon emission permits are traded.

The local application of this principle has resulted in France on a rise of the ‘TICPE’ (for ‘Taxe Intérieure de Consommation sur les Produits Energétiques’), which is applied on oil products and fuels. This rise on a daily life product, has led to an exacerbation of the underlying issues and difficulties. This measure was perceived has an unfair tool affecting more specifically low-income households, that does not have the financial resources to access recent vehicles with more efficient engines. The specific measure affecting oil prices for consumers, has then trigger a deeper protest movement, while symbolically wearing ‘yellow jackets’ during demonstrations. Such protest movements have then repeated, understood by protesters as a way to express underlying feelings of injustice.

None precise explanation or arguments used by demonstrators can be identified. The demonstrations were the symbol of deeper misunderstanding between population, and politicians perceived as a ‘ruling caste’, perceived as not acting in the interests of the population. The wrong explanations and arguments, coming from unsafe or not specific sources were used. The role of social networks, or unsafe internet information sources (with suspicion of collusion with third countries interests) has to be highlighted.

This social movement was the demonstration that the perception by population of the implemented measures has to be taken into account. In order to be completely accepted and applied by populations, the development of environmental solutions has to be done in parallel with an effort to explain and to adapt with difficulties populations are meeting in their daily life. Populations are waiting for effective adaptations in their daily life. This trend will then be, in a second time, subject to evaluation by populations.

             The post-Covid transition period as an opportunity to transform vulnerabilities of communities the pandemic has highlighted.

             Thus, the crisis has demonstrated the importance to empower populations, in order to select the efficient and relevant measures: private initiative can bring and develop solutions, when public authorities are lacking accountability and responsibility. In 2016, an estimated 18% of the Global500 (global companies raking according to the annual turnover) did not publish reports on durability commitments. A study realised on 120 supply chains, by Ecovadis and HEC Sustainable Procurement, has highlighted that about 97% of these organisations are setting sustainable development on the top of priorities list, when 45% of these companies are committing at least 75% of the total volume of spending. This trend is largely increasing, compared to the 27% of the companies having a responsible behaviour in 2013. However, companies’ commitments are focusing for the moment on responsible choices, as child labour or toxic waste or safety. The transition to sustainable behaviour and commitments has not yet been complete: only 10% of the Global 500 companies are committed in greenhouse gases emission reduction processes.

 A first step would be to rely on companies’ commitments to respect the initial text of Paris agreements. Private and citizen interests can take over from the public authorities when is lacking a public will to respect initial climate engagements. In order for the private will to be efficient, a tool would be to focus on the private interests’ initial commitments, and assess if these commitments are respected, or not. Such a check and balance process can be seen as a positive tool for large private companies: in the case of a large multinational company, checks and balances of environment or social commitments is a task requiring competencies that are not present in the company. To rely on private assessment entities, would be a way to obtain a clear map of the situation in the company, and identify processes and organisation to improve the situation.

The checks and balances results can then be a way to promote the public image of a company. In a private market, being more and more aware of the stakes and challenges of environmental and social governance can be rewarded when competing with other companies to access a market. For private companies, to respect initial environmental and social commitments can be rewarded by improving its public image. Then, during call for tenders of a project, when a private company is competing with less responsible companies, to promote the reliable can be rewarded by customers aware of the social and environmental stakes.

            The Covid crisis has demonstrated the importance of an individual responsible behaviour. The effects of the crisis will be highlighted on the long term: a responsible consumer will remind, once the crisis is over, the responsible behaviour of a partner or colleague during the pandemic. Then in the future projects, the partner will remind, or not, the past experiences. A responsible public image will be rewarded during the prospect and procurement phases of a project. The opposite is also true: an unreliable reputation will be disadvantageous during procurement phases…

             Populations have demonstrated their will during the pandemic, to imagine solutions to live with the consequences, and move forward to keep their usual way of life. Populations have understood that this will, has to be followed by behaviour changes in the daily life (compliance with sanitary individual and collective rules, restriction in travels and displacements…). The challenge will be in a second time, for this understanding to have effective consequences on the long term. Once an efficient vaccine will be developed and largely available for populations, learnings during the crisis period have not to be forgotten. The main stake will be to find the right way and methods, to effectively change the population daily habits, in order for the environmental to keep high on the agenda.

A solution could be to find the right tool to transform the popular demonstrations for specific issues (for raw material or oil prices, for national political choices or elections) in more efficient and effective tools. The key element of all these demonstrations, is a loss of bearing and disorientation of citizens of how has evolved their usual environment: populations do not recognize anymore the culture or environment they are issued from. It would appear that evolutions may have been too fast for some populations, that have not understood the interest to keep constantly updated.

In this context, the learnings issues of the coronavirus crisis can be understood as a demonstration of the importance to keep populations informed. The first step of efficient environmental strategies and solutions, would be for the populations to understand the goals and stakes of the questions. Then, an efficient and understandable communication strategy will be required, to keep populations informed of the state and progress of the selected strategy. Populations are now used to chart, map, graphs…draft during the pandemic to be able to clearly imagine the evolution of the phenomena. Similar tools could be efficient in order to fully engage populations for the environmental questions and the considered solutions.

             To keep control of the virus dispersion has demonstrated the importance to work together, virtually hand in hand. Public-private partnerships will be a solution for countries to maintain environment commitments, when the public authority is temporary unable to respect previous commitments.

             The main challenge will be then to find the right method to transform the private will, in effective consequences and changes in the way companies are operating. Checks and balances tools will be useful, and can be provided by external organisms. To operate responsibly, while respecting social and environmental behaviour and objectives, will have produce a more positive public image of the company. This more positive image can then be used as a tool of public communication, to improve the perception of the company by public, and lead to a better public perspective. Companies have to keep in mind that a positive public perspective can and will be rewarded later.

             The development of a new generation of energy producing equipment represents a huge challenge, that can be seen as a tool to create and maintain the commitment of populations. Once citizens will access more energy from more responsible energy producing sources; it will encourage populations and citizens to pursue the trend by adopting more responsible individual behaviours at home, and the right and more efficient equipment.

             This trend will also represent a major breeding ground for jobs. A green post-Covid recovery strategy must be accompanied by an important effort to train the generation to come, who is entering the labour market. Settlement of new energy producing tools will come along with needs for specific skills and workforce. Involvements of private companies in the creation of content for courses, will be a way to guarantee school paths that are compatible with companies needs. Youngs will then access jobs easier, when entering the labour market. 

To effectively realise the environment commitments will require a strong relationship citizens-government

The Covid-19 virus dispersion is demonstrating the importance of a strong relationship citizen-governments. Public authorities will then have to respond populations during election processes, that will be an opportunity for populations to express their voice.

On the opposite, countries where populations do not have access to ways to express their opinion and states of mind, will face counter-voices in a second time, during the post-Covid recovery attempts. For the moment, consequences are limited in these countries to an economical high-inflation rate. But without any uncontested external entity that would express a clear voice, on best way and organisation to adopt to recover, populations won’t be able to effectively recover of the pandemic. In this context, the most efficient way would be first to accomplish changes required to realise the environmental goals in societies mature enough, the others countries would then follow the trend later, when a collective awareness will be done.

To effectively realise environment commitments, required to fully accomplish the dedicated goals and to be able to accept dissenting voices. This task will require to be able to hear and follow advices of external agency, that have more experience in a specific domain. Countries that are ready for such a strategy, can rely on experience gathered by citizens in their specific and respective domain. The issue of accountability will be essential: the challenges to come in an immediate future, will require accountability; governments will have to be able to gather data on the situation, and have to be open to constructive criticism. The question of effectivity and efficiency will be raised: the current global context where all the stakes have to master resources and expenses to reach the goals, will imposes new restrictions and constraints.

To do better with less will be the mantra to respect. In this specific context, the role of big data will be strengthened. Such tools would offer the possibility for governments and leaders to really be accountable. Similarly to the way the private sector is operating, tools based on the evolutions of data linked with the population, would offer an opportunity to effectively evaluate the efficacity and efficiency of the policies chosen and implemented. For governments, big data solutions can offer a way to evaluate, and correct the implemented policies. However, the use of big data has to be collectively foreseen and decided: too much big data, or without precise and public limits can lead to an Orwellian society…

Inequalities will be the next challenge to consider. To effectively fight inequalities will be beneficial for both the public and private sector: it would represent a cost diminution to carry out for public authorities, and would represent potential consumers for the private sector. On the model of the workers’ housing estate of the Creusot (France) forges in the 19th century, to commit a part of the company profit to improve life quality of workers will be beneficial for both employers and employees: daily life improvement for employees, daily quality and efficiency work improvement for employers. The challenge will be to imagine solutions on the model of workers’ housing estate, to increase life quality, and health of employees. Such a strategy will finally be beneficial for companies: the quality and efficiency of the work will be increased, while limiting the will to leave the company, and limit the loss of trainings provided (economical and professional skills loss).

What to do next…?

The coronavirus dispersion and the resulting crisis are demonstrating the importance to rely on facts and sciences. A new generation of entrepreneurs has emerged, developing tools or processes to live with this new reality.

This risk is for the resulting world to be similar to the previous one. Which learning can be drafted and implemented from the Covid-19 crisis?

In the late 80s and beginning 90s, the competition between the Soviet Union and the United States, has led to a race for space access, and an important technological move forward. This competition has since been the source of technologies everyone is now using in his daily life: communication tools with computers using a global network, reliable energy thanks to nuclear civil reactors, civil and scientific competition access for space…

A new kind of companies is developing tools and technologies issued of this period, that everyone is now benefiting. The next stage of this competition will be re-usable tool to access space, private companies creating regular and reliable flights to experiment zero gravity, or tool to catch the technological waste issued to space exploration through a Swiss-European partnership…

We can wonder whether the competition that is emerging at the end of the coronavirus dispersion, with a bi-polarisation around the Pacific Ocean, would be an opportunity for a greener and more sustainable step forward. Is a competition to reach effective Carbon neutrality in these conditions really desirable, be efficient enough to reach the sustainable development goals, and could be beneficiary for all?

The next question will be the regulation and limits of such a competition. How to ensure that Development goals are really respected, while effectively protecting the nature and populations? Is a fair, positive and productive competition possible, for all the populations? And how to involve populations in such a trend, in order to maintain peaceful relations?