NEWS 2020-09-10

Covid-19 related research

We are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is not surprising, as a pandemic of some sort has long been anticipated, with precursors such as HIV, avian influenza and ebola. The current pandemic has exposed the fragility of the tightly interconnected globalised world of the Anthropocene, where humans and their activities have accelerated to become the dominant force shaping the dynamics of the biosphere and the Earth system as a whole. The speed, spread and connectivity of the human dimension is unprecedented in human history.

Research at the Beijer Institute, with its systems focus, has a long tradition of analysing the dynamics of complex, adaptive and interacting social, economic and ecological systems. We have shown that economies, societies and civilisations are embedded in the biosphere, and that people and nature are intertwined social-ecological systems now co-evolving and shaping the operation of the planet as a whole. Insights have been gained on the complex dynamic behaviour of ecological and economic interactions. We have long been investigating how slower and deeper changes interplay with abrupt and rapid changes, and how seemingly unrelated shocks influence economic performance, societal development and sustainability.

Consequently, it is not surprising that Beijer Institute researchers are in a good position to analyse the Covid-19 situation and its broader implications from a systems perspective. Below, we describe some recent and ongoing work of relevance for understanding and acting on the pandemic, as part of building flexibility and resilience. To the right there is a link to a list of research articles that provide an introduction to the dynamic thinking important for understanding changes, in this intertwined world, which can place the corona pandemic in a broader systems perspective.

Policies to address both the Covid-19 crisis and the climate crisis

Many countries have introduced unprecedented economic recovery packages to minimise the pending recession resulting from the economic shutdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19. At the same time, there are calls for governments to prioritise climate change when designing economic stimulus packages. In this project, Beijer Institute economists together with colleagues in Sweden and the US are examining the long-term implications of various policy options, to identify:

  • Long-term climate impacts of economic recovery policies related to Covid-19
  • How long-term climate policies may impact on economic recovery post Covid-19.

The main findings are that, among potential climate policies, labour-intensive green infrastructure projects, planting trees and, in particular, pricing carbon coupled with reduced labour taxation boost economic recovery. Among coronavirus policies, those supporting the services sector (leisure services like restaurants and culture or professional services like technology), education and the healthcare sector appear most promising, as these sectors are labour-intensive yet have low emissions. Such sectoral aid should be conditioned on creating employment and on low-carbon supply chains.

Engström, G., J. Gars, N. Jaakkola, T. Lindahl, D. Spiro, and A. van Benthem. 2020. Beijer Discussion Paper 271: What policies address both the corona virus crisis and the climate crisis? Beijer Discussion Paper Series

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 The pandemic highlights the need for city green space

In times of social distancing, green areas in towns and cities are more important than ever. Ensuring access to nature for the public should be a fundamental strategy of cities when coping with the Covid-19 crisis. A pre-printed article, forthcoming in Landscape and urban Planning, points out that, during these extraordinary circumstances, urban green areas offer resilience for maintaining well-being in urban populations, while still enabling social distancing. The stress-reducing effects of interacting with nature are well-established scientifically and access to nature can also help people stay physically healthy, not least when other forms of exercise are limited. Historically, green areas have often provided critical support in times of crisis. The article also discusses the critical role of urban nature in times of crisis, an important area of research within the research programme Urban Social-Ecological Systems.

Samuelsson, K., S. Barthel, J. Colding, G. Macassa, and M. Giusti. 2020. Urban nature as a source of resilience during social distancing amidst the coronavirus pandemic. OSF Preprints. osf.io/3wx5a” osf.

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Covid-19 and the global seafood system

An international interdisciplinary scientific team led by Johns Hopkins University investigated Covid-19-related shocks and responses in the seafood sector. Insights from the study, published as a preprint, show that as the pandemic shifts and possibly re-emerges in countries world-wide, there will be a continuing need for coping strategies to maintain the sector’s core functions and protect vulnerable people working in, or dependent on, the seafood sector. These responses will vary across regions and countries. A shift from short-term coping strategies to development and implementation of longer-term adaptation strategies and resilience building will be necessary to prevent future shocks and respond to ongoing stressors, such as climate change or political instability.

Love. D. et al. 2020. Emerging COVID-19 impacts, responses, and lessons for build­ing resilience in the seafood system. SocArXiv. osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/x8aew 

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 White Paper for the Nobel Prize Summit 2021 – Our Planet, Our Future

This paper, written by a team led by Carl Folke in preparation for the Nobel Prize Summit in Washington 2021, contrasts the hyper-connected globalised world of today with transformation pathways towards global sustainable futures.The challenges of achieving a resilient future are summarised, based on the contemporary threats of climate change, extreme events (including pandemics), biodiversity loss and social inequality. This white paper discusses alternative paths towards biosphere stewardship, ranging from technological change to social innovation and cultural shifts in beliefs and values, and how those relate to intertwined systems of people and nature embedded in the biosphere. The Nobel Prize Summit was planned for May 2020, but had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is hosted by the Nobel Foundation and organised by the National Academy of Sciences, in partnership with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Stockholm Resilience Centre, together with the Beijer Institute.

Folke, C. et al. 2020. Beijer Discussion Paper 272: Our Future in the Anthropocene Biosphere: Global sustainability and resilient societies. Beijer Discussion Paper Series.

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Navigating the chaos of an incipient global cycle

The Covid-19 pandemic is coinciding and interacting with other systemic changes worldwide, such as droughts and climate extremes, and social and political conflicts. As people increasingly recognise the unsustainability of the present tightly interconnected world, more are arguing that the Covid-19 crisis could be an opportunity to shift towards a more sustainable and equitable future with the help of green recovery investment packages and new green deals. Under the lead of Beijer Fellow Brian Walker, several Beijer Fellows have embarked on a project to develop a cohesive framework for understanding such dynamic change, including the windows of opportunities for change that emerge during turbulent times. They have taken as their starting point the “adaptive cycle” of systemic change, developed based on empirical observations by the late Beijer Fellow C.S. Holling.

Contact person: Carl Folke

Governance in the Shadow of Extreme Events

Extreme events like storms, flooding, wildfires and species extinctions are increasing in magnitude, frequency and intensity, and may have compounding and cascading impacts. Society needs strategies for handling and monitoring these extreme events and minimising their consequences. According to a forthcoming paper, based on the 2018 Askö meeting, effective governance of extreme events requires careful assessments of the risks and benefits of responses and their interactions, and evaluations of how various combinations of responses change the wealth distribution. Then different infrastructures to predict and respond to the risk should be established and ways to coordinate responses across local, regional and global levels should be designed.

Contact person: Anne-Sophie Crépin