Never Waste a Good Global Crisis. SDG 17: A Blueprint for Humanity
It was former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (2021) who, after World War II when working to establish the United Nations, stated:
“Never let a good crisis go to waste”.
Times have changed since then. What humanity currently observes are crises that are de facto global by themselves, both in their existence as well as in their outreach and impact.
Be it the contemporary pandemic of Covid-19, the limits to growth, the loss of biodiversity, the lack of digital governance or global warming, the main insight here is: all these themes are global risks.
What is the message for science at this point?
The first and obvious insight is: Humanity is in all this together.
The second realization is: No scientific discipline alone can find potential solutions to deal with these global crises.
The third recognition is: Global institutions are needed to tackle these common challenges of mankind in a sustainable way.
The current pandemic that humanity is experiencing is an example of a global crisis: Forming a common response on a worldwide scale is a difficult endeavor; yet if is does not happen, it is a lost opportunity for mankind.
Science has developed a vaccine for Covid-19 within a short period of time, but there is no vaccine for climate change. As such the UN General Secretary António Guterres tweeted:
“The climate crisis is here – and no country or region is immune”.
Both risks – pandemic as well as global warming – illustrate the global connections of humans. But still there is a lack of global institutions that can coordinate and deal with these universal challenges faced by humanity in a sustainable way.
This ambition is the central request of SDG 17: (re-)build global partnerships and cooperations. Otherwise, it is not only a lost opportunity for humanity, but it will also cause severe humanitarian and natural catastrophes in the forthcoming decades.
SDG 17 clearly calls for a holistic view on sustainable development, and it is also the goal to strengthen multilateralism. As such, it points to the need to build partnerships among various stakeholders – including governments, civil society, scientists, academia and the private sector – at the global level (see SDG Target 17.16 and 17.17 Sustainable Development Goals 2021).
Sustainable development requests global partnerships and strong institutions. Crises that are not locally, nationally or regionally bounded cannot be solved by limited and nationalist attitudes. The current pandemic is a wake-up call for humanity to (re-)build efficient and global institutions, which can tackle the joint human experience in a sustainable manner.
The first stepping stone for this undertaking is rebuilding trust.
Trust among states, among world regions, among businesses and
civil-society actors. In the political landscape of the world there are
contradictory narratives regarding global warming. The summit by the G20
– the international forum that brings together the world’s major
economies – “G20 Environment, Climate and Energy”, which took place in
Naples in July 2021, clearly demonstrated these different views.
The ambition of this G20 (G20 Italia 2021) summit was to:
“(…) to reconcile environmental protection with progress and human wellbeing, placing the ecological transition at the centre of the political agenda, and promoting a coordinated and global response to pandemics that is based on science.”
The G20 group, covering the leading industrialized states as well as emerging countries, are responsible for 80% of all global emissions on a worldwide scale. In other words: without the G20 group, there is no way to restrict global warming to 1.5 degrees. Still understanding is quite different in states like Russia, India or China regarding the usage of fossil energy. Furthermore, only a few states of the G20 group have proclaimed the will to put 30% of their land and marine areas under environmental protection. The joint final declaration of the summit lacks a commitment to achieve the 1.5 degree target as early as the end of 2030 (see Zeit Online 2021).
These contradictory narratives of states will not solve the biggest challenge ahead of humanity in this century: global warming. There is an urgent need for G20 states and all UN member states to act as a joint community of shared responsibility and to realize that reducing global warming is a common human endeavor, where each and every state has to contribute.
Covid-19 has shown how weak global institutions and regulations have been developed so far. At the same time, it is a wake-up call for science to overcome thinking in tight state, regional, and disciplinary containers. Science has a key role in developing sustainable solutions to the global challenges of humanity. If it does not take up this chance to learn, it means wasting a good universal crisis. Global challenges require a new understanding of science. Universities and research institutions have to redefine their role in world society. Institutional reforms are required for joint collaborations among scientists to deal with the universal challenges mankind faces.
In the understanding of “never waste a good global crisis”, Covid-19 is a blueprint for humanity in terms of learning how to handle global risks in the coming decades. The pandemic provides humanity with an insight into appropriate checks and balances: what worked out efficiently with regard to global cooperations and where the construction sites are that still need to be worked on in order to ensure sustainable development and enable states to act in concert to address interconnected global challenges. So far, it is clear that the lack of global institutions and partnerships is the main construction site for humanity regarding worldwide risks. Tracking global risks by rebuilding trust and perceiving global warming as a joint human endeavor is the core of SDG 17. Revitalizing international cooperation, fostering transnational partnerships and establishing capable global institutions that can deal with universal risks in a suitable manner is not only an ethical imperative, it is in everyone’s interest.
Humanity is, due to the current global crisis caused by Covid-19, at a crossroads. Facing climate change and tackling its negative effects in a sustainable way by the shared responsibility of states and other stakeholders means learning from the current universal thread. Not to build strong and capable global institutions and partnerships and not to invest more efforts in global cooperations – as such, not to fulfill the targets of SDG 17 – is to “waste a good global crisis”. States across the globe have to take action and transform their policies from those of reacting to a universal threat like global warming towards the direction of a preparatory approach that will enable policy changes in due course. Time will tell whether humanity is capable of learning this lesson.
Churchill, Winston 2021 quoted in Guillaume Gruère: Never let a good water crisis go to waste. OECD Opinion. Published online March 21th, 2019, available at https://www.oecd.org/agriculture/never-waste-a-good-water-crisis/, (accessed 25 July 2021).
G20 Italia 2021: The G20 on Environment, Climate and Energy to be held in Naples. Published online July 20th, 2021, available at https://www.g20.org/the-g20-on-environment-climate-and-energy-to-be-held-in-naples.html, (accessed 25 July 2021).
Sustainable Development Goals 2021: Goal 17: Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development. Published online by the United Nations, available at https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/globalpartnerships/, (accessed 23 July 2021).
Zeit Online 2021: Klimakatastrophe: G20 einigen sich nicht auf ehrgeizigere Klimaziele. Published online July 24th, 2021, available at https://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2021-07/klimakatastrophe-g20-treffen-nepal-umweltminister-erderwaermung?utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F, (accessed 24 July 2021).