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

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Matthew Blake, Head of Shaping the Future of Financial and Monetary Systems, World Economic Forum & Akash Shah, Chief Growth Officer, BNY Mellon


  • 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.

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.

What is the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact summit?

It’s an annual meeting featuring top examples of public-private cooperation and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies being used to develop the sustainable development agenda.

It runs alongside the United Nations General Assembly, which this year features a one-day climate summit. This is timely given rising public fears – and citizen action – over weather conditions, pollution, ocean health and dwindling wildlife. It also reflects the understanding of the growing business case for action.

The UN’s Strategic Development Goals and the Paris Agreement provide the architecture for resolving many of these challenges. But to achieve this, we need to change the patterns of production, operation and consumption.

The World Economic Forum’s work is key, with the summit offering the opportunity to debate, discuss and engage on these issues at a global policy level.

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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