Global glimpses on Corona - Sustainable Development in Corona times - A call for global solidarity

A guest contribution by Timon Wehnert


In the early days of the Corona pandemic I read statements in newspapers that the virus was the great “equaliser”: everybody can get it, everybody is at risk. Today this sounds plainly ridiculous. It is so apparent that the pandemic massively re-enforces existing differences: staying at home at a nice house with a garden is easier than in a small flat. Not to speak of what “staying at home” means for the homeless. As a German scientist I become aware (again) of the many privileges I enjoy. With just a laptop and good internet I can work from anywhere any time. The hardship of the Corona crisis is something I encounter on the news.

But then the news: For the first time in my life, I saw 15 minutes prime time news (Tagesschau) on only one topic: Corona. (Even sports: no soccer because of Corona). But with more news I watched - the more white spots I sensed. I feel well informed on Corona in Germany, in Europe, in the US - and occasionally in China. But what about the rest of the world?

In the research we do at our institute we work globally. In our Berlin office, we have colleagues who come from various parts of the world. And in addition to a German view on Corona those colleagues have some insights into their home countries - through local news, friends and relatives. In this blog we want to share some of these views, specifically on Nepal, Ecuador and the Philippines.

Why is this important for us? For our institute collaboration is an essential aspect of our work. For one, we as scientists are dependent on the interchange with others - scientists and practitioners. Only by combining the knowledge that is scattered across many brains we can come to meaningful insights. But more importantly, the issues we address - how to come to a transition towards sustainable development - is not something which can be solved by individuals nor nations. Climate policy is the most prominent example: as important as it is that each individual acts - each person, each company, each city and each country - we will stop climate change only when we act collectively. What is the link to Corona? We witness a worrying trend that Corona is dealt with on national levels: borders even in the EU are closed down, the US intends to stop its payments to the World Health Organisation, the EU members are in strong disagreement on collective economic support programs. There are only very few attempts visible of multinational collaborations to deal with the Corona pandemic and its subsequent economic impacts. But to put it bluntly, what do you expect, when in a year or two, the immediate Corona crisis is over and we are back in the climate negotiations, and the industrialised countries announce: Sorry, colleagues in developing countries, we know Corona was a tough time for you - but we were busy ourselves and unable to help you. Now for climate change we really need to work together again.

To me, Corona is a crossroad: do we as humans react to this crisis in a selfish, nationalistic manner? Saving lives and money in our country - but destroying the trust in global collaboration we have been working so hard on to develop over the last decades? Or do we - in the face of the immediate crisis - live according to our values and beliefs that global problems can only be solved by collective global efforts?

If we decide for the later, in our view, a first step is to widen our horizon and have a look into other parts of the world. What is Corona doing in other countries? What can we learn from this - for our actions here, but also to develop collective actions to overcome this crisis?