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It is in our common interest to achieve a sustainable and inclusive recovery from the Covid-19 disruption that is aligned with the principles of building back better

A focus on renewable energy is a key factor in a sustainable recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic (Photo by Pitinan Piyavatin / Alamy)

A focus on renewable energy is a key factor in a sustainable recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic (Photo by Pitinan Piyavatin / Alamy)

In his latest documentary — A life on our planet — David Attenborough underlines some urgent actions needed to rewild the world. We need to pursue restoring some level of balance in nature and parity on our planet.

We need to regulate the abusive behaviour that humans have displayed in nature, he says, wherein we have clearly assumed a dominant position, thinning out much of the other species and taming some more. All this has happened mostly in the last 50-60 years, and yet we can put it right.

His optimism that we can change the world around us is based on evidence and developments happening in pockets across the world. These could be and need to be scaled up and scaled out. They include transition to renewable energy to no-fishing zones in seas to plant-based diets and so on.

Attenborough challenges us to act in our own interest and that of the rest of the planet and find ways to do so. We are the only ones with the ability to change the world around us, he asserts.

Anthropogenic activities driven by agriculture, industry, trade, mobility and consumption have been held responsible for the degradation of nature around us and for the global biodiversity loss. Rising demand for goods and an unsatiated quest for choices have driven us to stretch our imagination and actions beyond the carrying capacity of the planet. No wonder we are living on 1.6 times the resource base of the earth, according to Earth Overshoot Day, based on a measure developed by the Global Footprint Network.

Responsible decision-making

Is there a way to achieve balanced and sustainable agriculture, industry, trade and mobility? Are there possibilities to scale some of the instances we see around us? These questions have long been raised, sometimes even answered through real examples, but unfortunately often forgotten.

However, we cannot deny that these questions are being raised more frequently than before and by a wider diversity of actors and institutions — governments, businesses and citizens.

It is a no-brainer to most that we need to create sustainable businesses and societies to secure our future. The real challenge is how.

It has been held that choices and decisions we make now and over the next 20 years are going to determine the future we craft for our children, the future of humanity and nature. The Covid-19 pandemic has given us an opportunity to focus on the how, and to make permanent changes in our thoughts and actions.

It is critical that we reflect and explore pathways to a sustainable, resilient, inclusive and equitable future now, more than ever.

Given the complexity of the problem, we will perhaps need what Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman suggests — switching to a slower, more deliberate and effortful form of thinking. Thinking slow might help us better in responsible decision-making.

Stitching pathways to recover better

Since the past couple of months, the wheels of industry have slowly started to roll as the pandemic lockdown has been progressively relaxed in India. The long and arduous process of rebuilding has begun.

Contrary to what detractors had predicted, an area of common interest for many has been achieving a sustainable and inclusive recovery, which is aligned with the principles of building back or building forwards better.

Ensuring that the pathway to recovery is less resource intensive and caters to the need and interest of the most vulnerable will be a key to achieving resilience at a wider society level.

The Global Investors for Sustainable Development (GISD) alliance comprising investors and companies worth USD 16 trillion has pledged to promote Covid-19 response and recovery that integrates sustainability and resilience.

The government of India announced a fiscal package (Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, or Self-Reliant India movement) to tackle the impact of the virus on the economy and people. This financial stimulus is a mix of fiscal support, monetary support, ease of doing business processes, as well as some fundamental reforms.

Building back better

Businesses and individuals have also come forward and taken actions within their means to support the most vulnerable and needy. The sheer magnitude of the situation and the degree of social and economic impacts requires all actors to join hands and support the recovery efforts.

In this background, the Centre for Responsible Business (CRB) will host its seventh Annual Sustainability Conference on October 28-30, 2020. This year’s event will be held virtually. It will endeavour to identify possible pathways to a sustainable and inclusive recovery post-Covid-19 for India.

Being an emerging economy with certain market aspirations on one hand, yet nagging developmental concerns on the other, India has unique challenges. Organisations and delegates will reflect and deliberate to suggest some of pathways to a sustainable recovery,. These will then be shared widely among national and international decision-makers and opinion leaders.

This will incorporate key takeaways from the various thematic and sectoral discussions that will cover a wide range of issues — from deforestation-free supply chain to governance of forest economy; sustainable trade to improving working conditions, especially women workers; applying circular business models to promoting data tools; driving sustainability through small and medium enterprises to integrating smallholder farmers in global value chains and so on.

A number of leading organisations are involved with the event. They include Friedrich Naumann Stiftung (FNF); Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO); Bharti Institute of Public Policy – Indian School of Business (BIPP-ISB); Rainforest Alliance; WWF; Oxfam; World Resources Institute; International Development Research Centre (IDRC); International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD); and International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED), among others. The Ministry of Electronics and IT and and NITI Aayog are also associated with the event.

We call on businesses, industry associations, government agencies, NGOs, academia, standards organisations, experts and citizens interested in pursuing this agenda to join us this year so that we can reflect, deliberate effortfully and stitch together pathways for a better recovery.

Rijit Sengupta is CEO, Centre for Responsible Business. India Climate Dialogue is media partner to the 7th Annual Sustainability Conference.


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