“We currently stand on the precipice of a period of great change, one that will have profound implications for young people, our communities, Asia, and our planet, as well as the future trajectory of humanity,” former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said of the twin crises of climate change and COVID-19 during an address to the Stanford community on September 28.
In the kickoff event of the "Perfect Storm: Climate Change in Asia" fall 2021 webinar series sponsored by the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC), Ban and Stanford social ecologist Nicole Arodoin convened to discuss two formidable and interconnected threats to the future of humanity. “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend our economies, societies, and way of life...at the same time, our planet is on fire,” said Ban, the U.N.'s eighth secretary-general. "We don't have a plan B, because we don't have a Planet B...Quite frankly, we have no time to spare.”
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COVID-19 Recovery and Climate Change Action
Mr. Ban mentioned the sobering UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released in August, which “paints a devastating picture of a worsening global climate crisis that is now inevitable, unprecedented and irreversible.”
However, the situation is not hopeless, he continued. "The rapid larger-scale emission reductions can still succeed in restricting the planet’s temperature rise to around 1.5 degrees Celsius...this will mark the difference between charting a secure and prosperous future for students like yourselves and our next generations, and one that condemns them to a planet besieged by flames and fraught with even more terrifying frequency and intensity.”
Ban, who has long advocated for climate reform and spearheaded the adoptions of the Paris Climate Agreement and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals framework, indicated that multilateral collaboration efforts such as the Paris Agreement and the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow still offer humanity its greatest hope to persevere over the serious threats to the planet, but that “we must urgently step up implementation efforts.”
According to Ban, such efforts are necessary not only to save the planet, but must also address public health issues, food insecurity, and education initiatives. "Indeed, our recovery from COVID-19 must simultaneously address climate action to help guide us towards a more sustainable and resilient future for all people and our planet...First, we need to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and go much further in the fight against vaccine inequity," he said.
In an appeal to Stanford’s student body, Ban urged students to apply their talents to address the unfolding crises. “We find ourselves at the center of a variety of converging crises and increased uncertainty,” said Ban, “We need thinkers who can appreciate the scale of challenges before us and we need doers who will move forward to take action.”
Collective Action Problems
Stanford professor Nicole Ardoin, the director of the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, a senior fellow with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, and an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education, echoed the urgency of Ban's remarks, and proposed that students emulate Ban's ideals of global citizenship and education and "use those ideas to work toward addressing public health crises."
Ardoin considered a number of points from Ban's recent book, Resolved: Uniting Nations in a Divided World, and asked the former Secretary-General how he and others might better "act with urgency, but practice patience" in the face of seemingly insurmountable global challenges. Ardoin, whose Stanford Social Ecology Lab researches individual and collective environmental behavior, indicated the importance of a collective response to global issues, stating, "These are such challenging and intertwined issues, they're not issues that people have to address individually...if you did wake up in the morning and you thought you had to do it all by yourself, I think we each feel quite overwhelmed."
Both Ardoin and Ban stressed that it was not only passion but compassion that allows for effective multilateral response to such threats. Ardoin closed out the talk on an optimistic note, suggesting that the two crises are "collective action problems, problems that we can work together as a global community to address, and I think that's a really empowering message...no matter where you are in your life, there's something we can all do."