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The Economy that Planetary Health Requires

As the pandemic subsides, the vision of a new era that would emphasize sustainability and equity has faded, and the global economy seems to be returning to business as usual. But planetary health, which includes our own, requires that we realize just such a vision.

MANILA – At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, analysts and pundits spun visions of how the crisis would reshape the global economy. Many heralded the opportunity to transform our financial systems, supply chains, and ways of working. The overall message was that the post-pandemic future would be greener, healthier, and more just.

Now, almost two years after the pandemic started, excitement about creating an economic “new normal” has mostly dissipated. Apart from occasional lockdowns and mask wearing, the world has largely returned to business as usual. The fight against the pandemic repeatedly has been described as a “war,” but there have been no radical changes akin to a wartime mobilization. On the contrary, the global pandemic response has operated under pre-pandemic economic norms. Despite urgent appeals for a “people’s vaccine” and repeated calls for vaccine equity, the rules of the market dominated vaccine distribution, and the pharmaceutical industry has marched on, unreformed.

Likewise, policymakers continue to act as if, to paraphrase Greta Thunberg, the world is not on fire. UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a “code red for humanity.” Yet countries’ current Nationally Determined Contributions under the framework established by the 2015 Paris climate agreement are inadequate to achieve the Paris accord’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5º Celsius, relative to preindustrial levels.

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