Blog / April 3, 2020

This is not business as usual – but what will replace it?

In just a few months, the earth seems to have shifted under our feet. We are in uncharted territory as the world rallies to fight Covid-19, its implications reaching into every corner of our societies.

Like all organisations, we’re forging new ways of working and collaborating. I am incredibly grateful to the fantastic Global Witness staff for their continued hard work, demonstrating their customary dedication and compassion throughout, and often in the face of personal challenges.

Many of our partners around the world face even greater and more complex difficulties. We are speaking together about how we can creatively and safely continue to collaborate.

I have also been moved by the many displays of community-to-community support we see across the world. Though so many of us are now physically distanced, we are reminded of and humbled by our human interconnectedness.

In this vein I’m delighted to be chairing an online panel event as part of the Skoll Virtual World Forum. Though the original forum was cancelled due to coronavirus, we are convening panellists virtually in London, Abuja and Milan to keep the show on the road and bring our story of ‘The Oil Heist of the Century’ to an even wider, global audience.

Beyond the present health crisis, the pandemic will have long-lasting economic and societal impacts. Like many others, I have been reflecting on what the new reality means for us all. We know that the world is changing irrevocably. While it is impossible to predict for certain how this crisis will shape our future, we are determined to work with allies to ensure it is a future in which people are put before profit and efforts to address the climate emergency are at the heart of measures to bolster and rebuild economies.

We are already seeing immediate impacts for human rights and the environment. Land and environmental defenders, who are at the frontline of efforts to protect the planet and the rights of their communities, are alerting us to concerns about their safety as a result of the response to Covid-19. In Colombia, devastating reports describe the death squads taking advantage of the reduced presence of police and security forces to attack environmental activists; and in Brazil, defenders face increasing pressure as the government scales back environmental enforcement. Elsewhere, the introduction of closed courts could mean defenders are criminalised for even longer periods of time. As the world’s human rights community shifts online, digital security is more important than ever.

The lands and forests these activists are defending are increasingly under threat from industrial agriculture, often backed by global finance from well known banks and investors.The world’s rainforests play a crucial role regulating the global climate and are rich in biodiversity. At Global Witness, we have been tracing the money fuelling deforestation back to major financial centres across Europe, North America and Asia. In the short term, we’ll work to ensure that progress towards protecting our climate-critical forests is not backtracked, and longer-term we’ll be looking to the important role that forests and biodiversity play in creating stronger, more resilient and sustainable economies and societies.

We must rebuild our societies, economies and supply chains so that they work with communities, not against them. This means learning from marginalised peoples who are on the frontlines of social and ecological crises, and ensuring that governments and businesses guarantee human rights and environmental protections in their responses to the pandemic and its economic fall-out.

In China, provincial governments have announced CNY 25 trillion (equivalent to USD 3.6 trillion) of investment in projects mainly related to infrastructure, among other measures to address economic impacts of the crisis, as the country works to stave off a resurgence of COVID-19 within its borders. This heralds an unprecedented wave of financial stimulus and spending that will be undertaken by nations around the globe, spurring the need for greater transparency and guarantees that economic recovery measures will not come at the expense of environmental and social progress.

In the US, we have called on lawmakers to ensure the initial bailout package benefits workers and communities as a whole, rather than serving as a pretext to prop up the oil and gas industry as it continues to drive climate change. While, in the end, the bailout didn’t include special benefits for the oil and gas industry, it was deeply concerning to see the Environmental Protection Agency announce it would suspend enforcement of some environmental protection laws as requested by the oil and gas industry.

Meanwhile, European Union heads of states have committed to make greening the economy a key part of efforts to recover from the shock caused by the coronavirus. However, there is still little detail on what these efforts will look like yet, so we will continue to monitor and push to ensure that efforts to rebuild in the wake of the crisis are used to contribute to the EU’s role in tackling climate breakdown. We expect the EU to step up and show global leadership in tackling the climate crisis.

Business also has a responsibility. Covid-19 has highlighted the precarious nature of global supply chains, and how reliant all countries and people are on each other as a result. The pandemic will be sounding alarm bells for corporations, who will be urgently looking to better manage risk in their supply chains to help prevent supply shortages  in this time of crisis. This pursuit of greater resilience to risk must take a holistic and long-term approach, prioritising improving supply chains so that they do not deliver profit and prosperity for some and harm and destruction for the most vulnerable.

These are uniquely challenging times for us all. We would like to thank all of our supporters: your support is more important than ever to enable us to pursue this work. We will continue to update you about how we are responding to the situation over the coming weeks and months, as the situation develops. I wish you all the best in this difficult period and hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy.

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