• We must all step up to respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19.
  • We must come together with compassion and humility.
  • We can build back better by ensuring long-term stimulus increases resilience and tackles the threat of climate change.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global emergency, bringing devastation to millions around the world, impacting lives and jobs, and grinding much of the global economy to a halt. It’s a crisis that has shown our vulnerability and confirmed our under-estimation of the probability and exponential nature of systemic risks. It calls on all of us to come together with compassion and humility.

The virus heeds no borders. It is impacting families, companies, cities, countries and economies around the world. Short-term emergency efforts are rightly focused on dealing with the immediate impacts and preventing worse from happening. We are seeing inspiring examples of governments and businesses taking extraordinary actions to slow the spread of the disease, protect the health and safety of people and communities, support workers, help companies survive the turbulence, and work to ensure vital goods and services remain available.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

As the immediate crisis response efforts transition, in some countries, to economic stimulus measures, the focus will be on rebuilding the economy and setting a new course. It is at this juncture that we need bold leadership.

As governments develop longer-term economic stimulus packages to combat the crisis, they must be designed around the core principle of building a stronger economy that ensures the long-term health and wellbeing of citizens, job creation, tackling climate change once and for all, and building a more resilient and inclusive society.

We cannot go back to business-as-usual and lock in old habits, pollution, spending and infrastructure that will inflict further harm on the very people, communities and economies that these stimulus packages seek to support.

Image: Image: BBC/Bloomberg

The science is clear: climate change is a present threat to human lives, health and the economy. The decisions governments make now will lock in the strategic direction of companies and economies for years to come. Pairing economic recovery action with climate action at this critical moment will ensure that economies can recover stronger than before while simultaneously reducing emissions.

We Mean Business has called for longer-term economic stimulus to be screened through the lens of climate and resilience to ensure that government spending and policies accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy. There should be a focus on measures that contribute to reducing emissions, ensuring clean air and providing good jobs as well as safeguarding economic growth.

These stimulus packages should incentivize the rapid deployment of existing climate solutions and spur the development and demonstration of zero-carbon technologies to accelerate the growth of an inclusive, resilient net-zero carbon economy by 2050 at the latest. Now is the time for governments to provide companies with the clarity and confidence they need to unlock further investments in climate solutions.

Image: World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2020

A climate and resilience lens should apply not only to economy-wide stimulus packages but also to public financial support for companies. Businesses receiving long-term public financial assistance should be required to do the following three actions.

First, they must integrate risk into company disclosures, and in the case of climate, in line with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). Consistently assessing risks in company investments and strategy will ensure future investment decisions mitigate climate change, avoid stranded assets and prevent future risks. Understanding risks and managing them is the best way to build more resilient companies and economies.

Second, they must build science-based approaches to inform company strategy.
Companies should set science-based targets consistent with limiting global average temperature increase to 1.5°C and reaching net-zero emissions by no later than 2050. Understanding and integrating science into decision making is the best way to protect against future shocks and to ensure companies are rebuilding in ways that are future-proofed and work for people and planet.

Third, they must invest in low-carbon solutions that create new jobs. Companies should prioritize investments in technologies, products and services that create more jobs and reduce emissions. Some examples include investments in retrofitting of buildings, in renewable energies, and in achieving mass production and economies of scale in technologies that can decarbonize heavy industries.

Business and government can and must work together at this extremely challenging time to lay the foundations to build back better. Concrete government policies that send a clear signal to business will help us rebuild from this devastating crisis in a way that delivers a healthy future for everyone, through greater resilience and a clear pathway to a zero-carbon future.