The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly, and radically, altered the everyday assumptions of people around the world. Where science has guided decision-making, the virus has done less damage; where decision-making has refused to acknowledge science, we have seen shocking loss of life and unprecedented direct and indirect costs (Cambridge University estimates as much as $82.4 trillion will be lost from global GDP over the next 5 years.) COVID-19 provides clear evidence that human wellbeing cannot be disconnected from the degree to which we pursue, honor, and apply the best known science.

The virus has revealed startling vulnerabilities in our industrial systems. Not only are they not environmentally sustainable or socio-economically just and inclusive; their prevailing structures are, in many cases, fundamentally more risky than resilient. Decision-making at the human scale can have global consequences, and people’s willingness (and ability) to act with knowledge and insight can determine the fate of millions. We may be entering a new phase of geopolitics, in which people in community are the new superpower.

The Principles

The future is in our hands. When the IPCC reported on the perils of global warming of 1.5ºC, the COP plenary was stilled by solemnity and focus. The weight of responsibility was clear. Co-creating a livable future is everyone’s business. The decisions we make rule out certain possibilities and create others. We are the crew on this spaceship called Earth, and everything we care about depends on whether we can achieve climate resilience.

To achieve lasting, shared, adaptive resilience, we will need to follow these principles in our rebuilding efforts. 1-3 are principles of fact; 4-6 are principles of action. All 6 lead us to specific areas of recommended innovation and collaboration:

  1. We are all future-builders.
  2. Health is a fabric of wellbeing and value.
  3. Resilience is a baseline imperative.
  4. Leave no one behind.
  5. Design to transcend crisis.
  6. Maximize integrative value creation.

We urge the nations of the G20 to lead the world in putting these principles into practice, starting right away, to ensure a rapid, inclusive, sustainable recovery from the COVID crisis.

1) We are all future-builders.

Everyone’s empowerment and agency have real value for everyone else.

Most human beings are left out of the calculus of policy design and wealth creation. Most human beings live on the margins of the economy, on the margins of finance, banking, energy, industry, and experience costly conflicting outcomes from the incentives that shape our food systems. Marginalization and the degradation of choices undermine people’s ability to choose better, to shape a better future; enhanced agency for low-income people and communities—the availability of better choices, the economic empowerment to choose freely among those better choices, and the availability of knowledge, rights protections, and redress—all make it easier for a society to achieve better overall outcomes.

Areas of Action:

  • 1a) Value the role of every person in rebuilding for a better future. Make policy that treats each person as inherently valuable, not merely as potential beneficiaries of (or contributors to) economies of scale.
  • 1b) Create participatory policy-design processes and public accountability, so that scientific evidence and local need can combine to eliminate structural inefficiencies and minimize system-level risk. (Read the Engage4Climate Toolkit.)
  • 1c) Mobilize capabilities at the human scale, by incentivizing new investment in activities that empower people and expand the agency of individuals and communities, and foster sustainable consumption.

2) Health is a fabric of wellbeing and value.

Human health, economic health, and planetary health are inextricably connected to justice and prosperity, and their benefits enhance and reinforce each other.

Health is not only a personal question, or a question of general public health. It is also contingent on (and plays a role in) the economic health and resilience of people and societies, and is connected to the health and resilience of natural systems at local, regional, and planetary scales. The resilience-building benefits of each of these areas of health make it easier to achieve greater health and resilience in the other areas; these system-level interactions create the complexity that makes life as we know it resilient. Degraded health is a risk for people and for societies; the risk of resilience failure is an existential threat. The overwhelming, unprecedented emergency management costs of the COVID-19 crisis demonstrate that we must understand health as an integrated fabric whose strength depends on the wellbeing of all.

Areas of Action:

  • 2a) Study health impacts at all scales. Invest in the study of ways in which everyday choices (norms, consumer practice, financing strategies) impact the health of human beings, of local biodiversity and ecosystems, of regional watersheds, and of planetary systems, and how these impacts interact with each other.
  • 2b) Develop clear, context-specific metrics revealing the health-building or health-eroding value of both existing and emerging technologies and practices.
  • 2c) Put health first. Reward those institutions and enterprises that do more to minimize negative health impacts at all scales and to maximize their role in building resilience for people, and for natural systems.

3) Resilience is a baseline imperative.

To recover from and transcend our current multi-faceted crisis, we must rebuild for a better future.

Resilience is not only the ability “to bounce back from a shock”. It is also the ability to respond in a flexible, agile way, to continue functioning in the midst of crisis, and to be of value to others in mutually beneficial ways, even when resources are scarce. Resilience is not a luxury; it is a baseline imperative, and the reason societies of all sizes first came into existence. The cost of deep, pervasive emergency disruptions like COVID-19, is too high to allow a return to unsustainable business as usual. We must study, cooperate, plan, and invest, to transcend this multifaceted crisis, which means we need to foster health and resilience at all scales, for all people.

Areas of Action:

  • 3a) Eliminate pollution. Identify opportunities to eliminate air and water pollution, as well as climate-forcing carbon pollution, and act to prevent future pollution.
  • 3b) Map the action steps to better futures. Work with business, banking, communities, and stakeholders, to map out 20-year strategies for maximizing routine resilience-building in all areas.
  • 3c) Leverage sustainable food and land use strategies, as well as green infrastructure and ecosystem services, to minimize risks. This will free up public and private investment for expanding health and wellbeing, and allow for more rapid deployment of solutions to stave off major shocks.

4) Leave no one behind.

Include everyone in the building of a better future, by ensuring everyone’s health, agency, and cooperative capabilities can go to work.

A world that works for everyone is a world that works. A world that fails to work for everyone is designed to fail. While the use of wealth and power has traditionally insulated ruling classes during crisis, the connectivity of our world makes this impossible. Finance that is abstracted from everyday value creation at the human scale is too much a fiction to be a foundation for real and lasting prosperity. Investing in real good for real people is the surest way to build (or rebuild) an economy that is capable of shared sustainable thriving.

Areas of Action:

  • 4a) Honor the Right to Know—how decisions are made, whether everyday activities expand or reduce danger, create health risks, or favor sustainable outcomes. High-quality free public education for all, open access to scientific evidence, and community-building transparent institutions, are vital foundations for sustainable prosperity.
  • 4b) Redirect finance (public, private, multilateral, and blended) to innovations in business, science, and practice, that expand economic empowerment for lower-income and marginal communities and enhance agency for everyone.
  • 4c) Let people lead. Open processes elicit higher ambition and point to innovations that improve health, foster opportunity, safeguard air, water, and ecosystems, and leverage community-level capabilities to do this affordably. Prioritizing community-level empowerment and thriving will strengthen the overall process of investment, recovery, and sustainable development.

5) Design to transcend crisis.

Adaptive, inclusive, resilient prosperity is within reach, if we work to eliminate critical system failures.

New investments and COVID-19 recovery strategies should not incentivize, support, or re-establish critical system failures. Greenhouse gas pollution that leads to global heating actively destroys value creation across whole economies. Businesses that depend heavily on such pollution contribute to the widening of the unequal distribution of new income. New technologies, policies, incentives, and financing strategies must all play a role in building resilience across human and natural systems, and in their interrelationship, at all scales.

Areas of Action:

  • 5a) Price pollution & expand incomes: By putting a direct price on carbon, at the source, governments can ensure pollution is priced across the whole economy; by returning revenues to households, they can ensure the everyday economy keeps creating new jobs.
  • 5b) Reinvent food systems to foster health and resilience. Climate-smart agriculture, sustainable land use, nature-positive investment, and delivery of healthy food, affordably, to all people—all of this in combination provides an opportunity for the world economy to reverse trillions of dollars in lost wealth per year, and to build a more solid foundation for future health, resilience, and prosperity.
  • 5c) Redesign infrastructure, trade, and financial systems to align with and build on the resilience value of persistent progress toward all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

6) Maximize integrative value creation.

Value (wellbeing) emerges from complex interactions; assessing value must include assessment of health and resilience as a product of these interactions.

We are living through the 6th Mass Extinction, with unprecedented biodiversity collapse occurring on all continents and in all domains of life. Climate disruption and ecosystem degradation on land and in the ocean are putting the biosphere at risk. Science allows us to clearly understand the impact of upstream activities on downstream health and resilience. There is no sustainable path to human prosperity, if we do not halt the loss of biodiversity and the thinning and dislocation of ecosystems. We must embrace complexity, integrate across watersheds and through planetary systems, and deliberately cooperate to build resilience value through Nature-positive investments.

  • 6a) Collaborate across watersheds, to build resilience by intelligently mapping natural systems value to human activity, while integrating upstream and downstream interests, to protect all stakeholders against system-level shocks and maximize external returns on investment (XROI).
  • 6b) Establish resilience value as an operational foundation for everyday development and investment planning, conditioning business incentives and financial support on plans for steadily building XROI.
  • 6c) Prioritize Nature-positive investments in all areas, making use of resilience value metrics and other indicators of XROI, to efficiently mitigate the risk of multi-system major shocks.

Getting in Shape, to Outrun Planetary Emergency

To maximize future opportunity, upgrade to all-inclusive NDCs.

We further urge that all governments use these six principles and their 18 corresponding areas of action, to intelligently shift national resources across all sectors into far more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for implementation of the Paris Agreement. Historically, we have limited discussion of “climate finance” to those specific investments intended to perfectly align with specific climate change mitigation or adaptation goals.

At this late hour, the best chance any society has for achieving sustainable future prosperity is to realign all investment across the public and private sectors with achieving net-zero climate impact at the earliest possible date. The cost of unchecked multi-system planetary emergency is simply too high to allow for anything except the most immediate, comprehensive, and ambitious timeline.

By integrating climate-smart agriculture, zero-emissions energy systems, green infrastructure, electrified transport, watershed resilience plans, and integrative valuation of XROI into NDCs—in line with the 6 Resilience Intel Principles for Reinventing Prosperity laid out above—every nation can come to the COP26 UN Climate Change negotiations in a position to lead the world through this time of crisis and recovery. No other path to future prosperity or geopolitical leadership holds so much promise.


UPDATE—October 14, 2020

The $16 trillion virus

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has published a new estimate that the long-term costs of the COVID-19 pandemic will reach $16 trillion in the US alone.

UPDATE—March 15, 2021

EU Parliament votes to advance Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism

The European Parliament has voted by a wide margin to move ahead with creation of a EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism. Depending on the particulars of CBAM policy design, it could be a critical tool for:

  • Making strong EU climate policy more durable;
  • Reducing the opportunities to profit from pollution;
  • Signaling a clear direction of travel for trading partners and investors;
  • Driving higher ambition in national climate policy around the world.

UPDATE—April 21, 2021

The proverbial “pie” for business as usual is shrinking

The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero brings $70 trillion in assets under management into both a commitment to reach net-zero overall emissions and science-based targets including early action in line with holding global heating to 1.5ºC. This constitutes an unprecedented realignment of future finance with climate neutrality and sustainable wellbeing.

UPDATE—June 18, 2021

Good Food Finance: building the toolbox to fund GoodFood4All

The Good Food Finance Initiative, co-convened by EAT and FAIRR, in close collaboration with the World Bank, released its summary report from the 1st Good Food Finance High-Level Roundtable. The report includes a Mission Statement and a commitment to “identify, develop, deploy, and mainstream the optimal financial instruments, strategies, and enabling policies, to generate food systems that sustain the health of people, Nature, and whole economies.” [Get the Report]

UPDATE—November 3, 2021

Reinvent Prosperity, Include Everyone, Secure the Future

One year on from the release of the Principles, we take stock of whether we are starting the process of reinventing prosperity:

  • Principle 1: We are all future-builders. Unfortunately, across most of the world, the individual everyday agency of most people has been reduced, as economic inequality has widened and trillions of dollars have been transferred to the wealthiest people. We are, however, beginning to see an increase in awareness about the importance of allowing local decision-making to be a mechanism for bringing resilience thinking to scale.
  • Principle 2: Health is a fabric of wellbeing and value. The conversation among world leaders, global institutions, and across the private sector, about zoonotic disease risk (the risk of another, future COVID crisis) is opening up room for this discussion beyond the highly specialized networks where it was already happening. Our economies are not being adequately redesigned to avoid pollution and to foster health and wellbeing.
  • Principle 3: Resilience is a baseline imperative. Major infrastructure initiatives, COVID recovery plans, sustainability-aligned finance commitments, are all sings of this awareness taking hold. We need to see more effective and widespread defense of the human rights implications of failing to build resilience, protect human health, or promote equality.
  • Principle 4: Leave no one behind. Billions of people are being left behind, right now. From vaccine inequity to the high cost of capital for developing countries, global economic recovery is working through institutions that have not figured out how to succeed without sidelining the wellbeing, dignity, and agency of some people.
  • Principle 5: Design to transcend crisis. We need institutions that are designed to operate in a world where we value every person and where we honor our role as stewards of any natural system we make use of. We need to promote technologies, business models, and community-level decision-making so we are less vulnerable to major shocks. Emerging from COVID safely and successfully will require creative future visioning.
  • Principle 6: Maximize integrative value creation. $130 trillion aligning with science-based net-zero goals should jump start a push for integrative value creation—investment that aims to achieve multiple kinds of value added. We need to integrate Earth observations into financial decision-making, and we need to demand major resilience outcomes at the human scale.

[Read the Full Report]