G20 scientists urge pandemic preparedness and climate action: 4 steps countries can take following Bali summit

As the climate crisis worsens, and after being ravaged by the COVID-19, the world is becoming more aware of the importance of pandemic preparedness and the need for immediate climate action. However, despite their wide-ranging and interrelated impacts on us all, there are still relatively few effective and collaborative science-based solutions from countries in place to address these two challenges.

Indonesia’s role in this year’s G20 events provides strategic momentum for the country, along with G20 member states and the global scientific community, to continue and intensify this effort.

Read more:
What is the G20 summit in Bali? Who’s there? And what are the top 3 topics on the agenda?

Pandemic preparedness and global climate resilience are key priorities of the Science20 (S20) – one of many G20 engagement groups – whose leadership this year is held by the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (AIPI). Through a series of official forums between G20 members’ scientific communities, we S20 scientists have published a number of global health and climate policy recommendations outlined in the S20 Communique.

We recommend several priorities for G20 leaders, including: building a resilient global health system, bolstering the use of multidisciplinary science and technology, and strengthening evidence-based policies on climate, pandemics, and the economy.

As the holder of this year’s G20 presidency, how can Indonesia encourage the international community to make good on this critical agenda? Together with S20 scientists, I recommend four steps that Indonesia and other countries can take.

1. Declare commitment to science-based policies

In this year’s G20, Indonesia needs to call on other state leaders to commit to implementing the recommendations of S20 scientists. Without a shared vow from world leaders, the thoughts and consensus of world scientists gathered during the long process of the G20 will lack bite.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, in particular, must also commit to putting an end to the anti-science trend that has occured during his administration – including the repression of criticism from scientists regarding the government’s handling of the pandemic and also deforestation and conservation efforts.

Amid stark warnings from global scientists regarding the earth’s worsening climate during the UN’s climate conference (COP27) currently taking place in parallel to the G20, in addition to our experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is paramount for Indonesia and other countries to place science at the centre of health and climate policies.

2. Establish a resilient global health system

As stated in our S20 Communique, the COVID-19 pandemic is an alarm telling us that our health infrastructure – from the national to the global level – is pretty fragile.

Reliance on reactive policies, rather than global prevention and preparedness, has prevented many countries from being able to control the recent global health crisis.

Indonesia needs to encourage G20 countries and the global scientific community to ensure that the World Health Organization (WHO) establishes and coordinates a resilient health system able to counter global health threats.

Several global health initiatives that align with this principle have started to emerge. One example is the ‘One Health’ Joint Plan of Action initiated by the WHO and other UN agencies aimed at addressing threats to human, animal, and environmental health in an integrated way. The principles contained in the S20 Communique could strengthen similar initiatives and lay the foundation for others.

The WHO also needs to map out centres of excellence for health research in each country and ensure connectivity between these health systems. During the pandemic, for instance, we began to see a variety of collaborations that were crucial in containing COVID-19 – from the rapid sharing of viral genome data via genetic banks to collaborative vaccine development.

Along with other principles in the S20 Communique, such as the need of a global “pandemic alarm system”, accessibility to open data between various research institutions, and a more robust vaccine and mediicine supply chain, we hope that countries can respond more quickly to crises at the local level.

3. Build a sustainable post-pandemic economy

The third step that Indonesia and world leaders must take, particlularly in building global climate resilience, is to emphasise sustainability in the rebuilding of G20 economies following the pandemic.

World leaders need to strengthen and enforce their respective climate commitments – for instance, as described in each country’s climate pledge (National Determined Contribution, or NDC) – to ensure cuts to carbon emissions and a green transition in all economic activities that are also tailored to local situations.

The climate crisis is an existential threat, as we have outlined in the S20 Communique, and this must serve as a reminder to G20 countries to fulfil the climate targets of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 2030).

This year’s G20 slogan – “Recover Together, Recover Stronger” – would be difficult to achieve if in their attempt to boost productivity and build infrastructure, policymakers don’t also pursue a state of carbon-free emissions (net-zero).

4. Initiate a multidisciplinary health and climate research funding network

Preventing, anticipating, and responding to complex challenges such as pandemics and climate change, requires a multisectoral and multidisciplinary approach. Research funding among G20 countries and around the world needs to do more to support interdisciplinary health, energy, and climate research initiatives.

Indonesia, through its science academy that sits as the leader of this year’s S20, can push for the creation of a multidisciplinary research consortium and funding system between G20 countries and beyond, particularly for research aiming to mitigate the climate crisis and support pandemic preparedness.

This is vital as climate and pandemic policies require perspectives from the social sciences and humanities to remain inclusive and ensure that no one is left behind.

Sharing financial, knowledge, and technological resources – in addition to principles of openness and data access – is a crucial step to support a multidisciplinary research agenda to tackle global health and climate issues.

Zalfa Imani Trijatna from Universitas Indonesia (UI) translated this article from Indonesian.

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