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Urgency, innovation and partnership: applying lessons from COVID-19 to tackle the climate

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Pascal Soriot
Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, AstraZeneca
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This article is part of: Sustainable Development Impact Summit
  • Among the most important lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic is that public-private partnerships on a truly global scale can deliver against the odds.
  • Public-Private partnerships need to address climate change with the same urgency as they addressed the pandemic.
  • Governments and policymakers must work to actively support and implement regulatory and policy frameworks to facilitate the rollout of new technologies and digital solutions.

Eighteen months ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic’s grip on the world began to take hold, AstraZeneca recognised the urgent need to develop a vaccine to defeat the novel coronavirus. Today, we face an even greater challenge that requires yet more urgency, innovation and collaboration: the climate crisis.

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The climate crisis has the power to overturn our global systems, harm our populations and damage our planet irreversibly. Its effects are already devastating, with extreme weather events displacing communities and a rise in chronic diseases related to pollution, such as respiratory illnesses, which reduce our ability to lead full and healthy lives.

Unlike the COVID-19 pandemic, however, global society has not applied itself with the same sense of urgency to tackling climate change and this must change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent report highlights that warming is reaching critical tolerance thresholds for health. There has never been a stronger case to act now.

Importance of public-private partnerships

Among the most important lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic is that public-private partnerships on a truly global scale can deliver against the odds. To tackle the climate crisis, we must take a similar approach.

AstraZeneca’s experience of developing a vaccine attests to this. It was only through our partnership with the University of Oxford, multilateral institutions such as COVAX, governments and supply partners that this was possible. The result is the delivery of more than 1.1 billion doses of an effective vaccine to over 170 countries around the world, primarily reaching populations in low- and middle-income countries.

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Combating climate change requires collaboration across geographies and sectors on a similar scale. To deliver net-zero healthcare, for example, public and private sectors must come together to pioneer a collective shift in approach and deliver more sustainable and resilient healthcare systems.

Key to this is changing the way that services and care are delivered, which is possible through incentivising investment in prevention, early detection and early treatment of disease to reduce the burden on hospitals and the carbon footprint of healthcare. We must view health as a strategic asset in which to invest, rather than a cost to minimise.

Ambition Zero Carbon

When we launched our Ambition Zero Carbon flagship programme at Davos in January 2020, we knew that collaboration with partners would be central to achieving our goal of having zero carbon emissions from our global operations by 2025 and being carbon negative across our value chain by 2030. We are already making good progress and have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 60% between 2015 and 2020.

We are also working with others as part of our AZ Forest programme to plant and maintain 50 million trees globally by 2025. Reforestation is a key way in which we can mitigate the negative impacts of climate change and make a positive contribution to communities, local economies, nature and our planet.

Innovative solutions to tackle the climate crisis are needed across the board. Governments and policymakers must work to actively support and implement regulatory and policy frameworks to facilitate the introduction of new technologies and digital solutions.

Reflecting on the lessons learned from a health crisis that has caused so much human tragedy will not be an easy task. But it is a vital one. Inaction is simply not an option.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Forum InstitutionalClimate ActionHealth and Healthcare SystemsStakeholder Capitalism
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