A vulnerable planet and the ‘omnipotence attitude’ of world leaders

Image: Harvard Business Review

Contemporary society needs radical change, in an interdependent, complex and risky world: strong states and a responsible globalization, a new world order?

For several decades, the evolution of the technological production process promoted a new way of generating wealth through goods and services based on an accumulation model.

This generated economic growth during the post-war period, which was called gold for thirty glorious years, which started from 1945 until the oil crisis of 1973. In the late 1970s, it broke with the Fordist development model, exhausting the accumulation model.

Then structural reform policies for developing countries emerged within the framework of the Washington Consensus. It is in this context that a new paradigm called “Human Development” based on economic growth began to be thought of as a means to achieve development, but not an end in itself. Focused on the richness of human life, which allows access to better opportunities and improve people’s lives. [1]

The latest coronavirus outbreak has exposed the illegal trade in wild animals, in addition to leaving these animals on the brink of extinction, they cause 70% of human infringements.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, which means they are transmitted from animals to humans. This implies a threat to economic development, animal and human well-being, and the integrity of the ecosystem.

Almost a month ago, the so-called “Black Monday” shook up the world’s threats, with a crash in financial markets that have had no problems since the 2008 crisis.

Something that political leaders never imagined for climate change deniers that a virus turned into an epidemic would have many effects on world markets. Oil prices fell by up to 25%, financial markets had their biggest collapse since 2008, and that is that in an interdependent world when one sector loses, it has a domino effect on others, and the same thing happens with the states.

However, the results of this global health crisis not favourable for the world economy, but nature. The coronavirus effect has achieved what so far no International Environmental Agreement has achieved in such a short time. The planet was the main beneficiary of quarantined societies, social isolation, paralyzed economy, closed borders. The environment has significantly reduced its levels of pollution.

The spread of this virus, rapid government responses and actions are similar to terrorist events or the 9/11 attack. According to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) between February and March, CO2 emissions decreased by 25%. 

The European Space Agency published images of low pollution level in Italy

Shocking images from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have shown how nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has decreased in China since COVID-19 began and enabled restrictions over human activity.

China is one of the most polluted & polluting countries in the world and in order to fulfil the commitments made in the Paris Agreement, it has begun to generate renewable energy, displacing the consumption of other energies that generate the greatest source of carbon emissions. China is emerging as a provider of energy and technology not based on fossil fuels.

Like China, in northern Italy, Lombardy’s most industrialized region has seen a drastic improvement in air quality, as a direct consequence of reduced traffic and economic activity.[2]

In India, the visibility of the Himalayan snow-capped peaks improved due to less pollution due to compulsory social isolation.

Himalayan Mountain ranges visible for the first time in 30 years from Punjab, India

Where should we go and what is the way? A new world order?

There is no doubt that the coronavirus is already a global problem, which has similarly hit the world and has only one solution – cooperation

Coronavirus is already a global problem, it is here to stay for a while. The European Union, Asia, the United States and Latin American countries are affected most. Uncertainty reigns and you can see the side effects of the pandemic over economy and geopolitics. Perhaps this international chaos tested us on the need for new world order.

The term “sustainability” as we know it today first appeared in a report in 1987, called the “Brundtland Report”, which is named after Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland (former Prime Minister of Norway), who chaired the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) and sought to investigate, study and seek multilateral solutions to the increasing impact that was being seen on the environment as a consequence of anthropogenic activities. 

This report, also known as “Our Common Future”, was prepared by several UN member states, where the concept of “Sustainable Development” first appeared, defined as that development that allows us to meet our needs without compromising future generations.

The path to a new world order based on sustainability and the future of our planet. It is time to take the SDGs seriously and work in cooperation and endorse multilateralism. The Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), comparable to the WTO agreements, are regimes that establish rules accepted by the states to multilateralism issues of joint importance on trade and environmental policies. Cooperation is essential under the objective of the Plan of Action of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, which calls for “strengthening cooperation between the United Nations Environment Program and other specialized bodies of the United Nations, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization.”[3]

When we refer to Sustainable Development we do it from three social, economic and environmental dimensions, in an interdependent world where the planet’s vulnerability is at stake and chaos is the greatest threat.

We need sustainable development and this is where political leaders will be required to act effectively and efficiently. It requires a real balance between economic, social and environmental sustainability, to avoid catastrophes like COVID19 or how the consequences of climate change may be worldwide. For this, it is necessary to become aware.[4]

Much of what climate change had not achieved until then, not even with scientists’ warnings about the impacts of global warming, the threat of hurricanes, floods, fires in the Amazon, Australia, got achieved by a virus, capable of paralyzing the world economy, production and tell omnipotent leaders around here, this is not the way; power is not absolute.

Amazon Rainforest Fire: Image: AP

And this health crisis has not only exposed the environmental damage on the planet but the great problem that the world has regarding education, especially in developing countries. Education was transformed into virtual classrooms, with a serious problem: the lack of access to the Internet. SDG 4 “Quality education” aims to guarantee inclusive, equitable and quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, in this sense those who are not meeting the goals are most vulnerable and are excluded.

The next ten years will decide the destiny of our planet, for the fulfilment of the 2030 Agenda and to achieve a sustainable world, for this we need ambitious action on the part of all.

Nature talks and shows us how we can stop climate change if we want to.

It is a call from Mother Nature to become aware of what we are doing, how much damage! What do we prioritize?

Today, the entire planet, regardless of borders, social classes, developed or developing countries is going through a global health crisis: declared by the WHO as a pandemic, COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Many people around the world are infected and over a hundred thousand are dead. It has had serious consequences for the economy and financial markets. All countries must take concrete policy-based measures to protect their populations and reduce damage to their economies.

The same occurs with global warming, the WMO reported that 2019 was the second warmest on record, with an average global temperature that exceeded pre-industrial levels by 1.1 ° C. Climate change also knows no borders and seriously affects health, producing consequences in the present and for many decades. Climate change and health are two main issues on the international agenda and we are already beginning to see what the economic impact is in the short term and long terms. 

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has generated Coronavirus, has generated unprecedented change, a global crisis with the presence of an invisible enemy that has demonstrated the vulnerability of the planet and has defeated the dominion of many political leaders. It has led man to see more deeply in himself, to show his weaknesses and to see that the threats of nature are real.

Currently, there is a predominance in most states with the emergence of populist leaders who have closed (in part) the doors to multilateralism and have been built on a system based on economic and military strength.

This omnipotence and political-economic power collapsed and have proven insufficient to face the global threats of international society.

Without a doubt, this will bring changes in the future so that whole humanity can achieve a more sustainable planet because we need to look at each other with greater empathy, not be selfish. Political leaders have a great opportunity to establish joint agreements based on sustainability and effective actions that allow us to see the three axes: economic, social and environmental.

This week, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) decided to postpone COP 26 scheduled for November in Glasgow in association with Italy. Without a doubt, this conference scheduled for 2021 will not only go down in history, but the proposals and solutions of all States parties to combat climate change face global threats and multilateralism will be drafted with great sincerity.

The way out of this health crisis will make us reflect as human beings, what world do we want?

It is evident and has shown us that the way out is on the side of universal values ​​such as solidarity, empathy, realizing that the solution is not individual but common. This will end and it will be up to us to choose what we will change. Life is the most precious asset we have.

As Henry Kissinger has pointed out, “the traditional program of international affairs – the balance between the major powers, the security of nations – has no longer defined our dangers or our possibilities … We are entering a new era. Old international models they are crumbling, the old slogans are meaningless, the old solutions are useless. The world has become interdependent in economics, in communications and in the field of human aspirations. “[5]

Policymakers face difficult times and must rise to the occasion, acting quickly, firmly and collaboratively. There will never be anything like before, for this we are all called to be aware of the need to make changes in lifestyles, values, consumption, production, where sustainability becomes part of us.

We have all changed the way we live, for a moment it seems that the world stopped and we began to see ourselves, to reflect on what we did a few days ago, we changed our routine. There is a pause, the important thing is that this is happening for a hope to develop a vaccine against the virus which will appear and stop the pandemic.

On the contrary, climate change will continue, and if we have the cure for the ailments of the planet: it depends on each one of their role as a citizen, politician, government, private sector, NGOs, to contribute and stop the impacts of climate change. Government actions are key in models of interdependence, so government agreements must respect interstate and transnational relations.

Finally, some questions arise:

Do we have to wait for a pandemic to see that the air is cleaner instead we want to change and improve our ways of consuming, from how we generate waste, energy, use more public transport or car-pooling and thus be more sustainable?

What will happen to the countries that are just beginning to feel the effects of the pandemic?

Our future will be history … what history we want for future generations to tell will depend on us.


 [1] Charles Gore, 2000. “The Rise and Fall of the Washington Consensus as a Paradigm for Developing Countries”. World Development.

[2] – El planeta, el principal beneficiado por el coronavirus. https://www.nationalgeographic.com.es/ciencia/planeta-principal-beneficiado-por-coronavirus_15325

El futuro de la energía se está fraguando en Asia.


[3] https://www.wto.org/spanish/tratop_s/envir_s/envir_neg_mea_s.htm?fbclid=IwAR3pz-3Kk27CAidJMH2ju2TEliNcvY2vMTtR0uzGPoOWGBWOE9qHXNirc0g

[4] World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History, Henry Kissinger. Penguin UK. 2015.

[5] Poder e interdependencia. Robert Keohane & Joseph Nye. La política mundial en transición.1988. GEL.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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María Emilia Burgos

María Emilia Burgos is Program Manager for SDGs at The Kootneeti. She can be reached at emilia@thekootneeti.in

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