The year 2020 marks 50 years of celebrating Earth Day, one of the world’s largest environmental movements and one that has gotten an estimated 1 billion people involved since its inception. At the business school for the world, we had big plans to celebrate in our own way. However, like the rest of the world, the COVID-19 situation prevents such a gathering and we will have to highlight the importance of Earth Day through our voice.
This year, the theme of Earth Day is Climate Action. It is an appropriate theme. The INSEAD SDG Week on campus last December looked at the impacts of climate change on business and society, and the results are sobering. Climate change is one of the greatest threats we face. Climate impacts such as heat waves, drought and extreme weather will not only harm communities, these environmental changes will hit the economy as well. By some estimates, the cost of inaction on climate change will cut global GDP by 7% by the end of the century. This economic cost also comes with a human cost in terms of water, sanitation, education, energy, transport and economic opportunity.
There are also new risks that emerge when we disregard planetary health. Melting glaciers and arctic ice are raising sea levels, threatening coastal infrastructure. Plastics in the ocean and warming ocean temperatures put the lives and livelihoods of millions at risk. Loss of biodiversity and critical habitats are weakening the natural barrier that protects us from the pathogens that are responsible for recent diseases like Zika, Ebola and now COVID-19.
While COVID-19 has turned the world upside down, it also reminded us of the earth’s resilience. With fewer vehicles on the road and in the air, measurements from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite show a 40% reduction of nitrogen dioxide in Asia and Europe, as compared to the same period in 2019. Numerous images taken from space show reduced air pollution and increased air quality around the world. When given the opportunity, ecosystems begin to bounce back quickly. It is a reminder that saving the planet is about saving humanity and the natural resources we need to thrive.
As a school, sustainability continues to be a priority. To contribute to global environmental health, INSEAD has discontinued the use of single-use plastic on all campuses, supported MBA student wildlife conservation efforts in Malawi, inspired the global INSEAD community to reduce waste through our Community Impact Challenge, hosted SDG Week to raise awareness around the UN Sustainable Development Goals and much more. Taking a cue from our planet’s resilience, we will use the 50th anniversary of Earth Day to support transformative change for people and the planet. The pandemic is an immediate threat to our way of life, but how we recover from the ensuing global crisis is the opportunity to rethink social and economic systems to be more equitable and just in terms of public health and climate action.
This is the second official Earth Day for the Hoffmann Institute. We want to celebrate with action. Earlier this year, we came together as a community for our Community Impact Challenge and showed the world that we can move the needle on plastics reduction. A group of determined INSEAD alumni volunteers together with the Hoffmann team and INSEAD alumni Association is now gearing up to take the challenge to the next level to reduce our overall climate footprint.