Roundtable at the UNECE Regional Forum on Sustainable Development

On the 17th of March 2021, the University of Geneva and the University of Zurich jointly organised a side-event at the UNECE Regional Forum to discuss new ways to shape more resilient societies. Through a discussion moderated by Elizabeth Pfund, Swiss Triple Impact regional coordinator at B Lab Switzerland, a panel of experts from the two universities as well as from the private and public sectors tackled the very vast issue of resilience through different lenses.

Opening the roundtable, Jacques Ducrest, Delegate of the Swiss Federal Council for the 2030 Agenda, declares that “we probably all had a different situation in mind when the Decade of Action to deliver the 2030 sustainable goals was launched in 2019.” Indeed, Covid-19 came as a reminder that there is still a long way to go before attaining a more sustainable world. To move forward in this direction, Jacques Ducrest argues that the three pillars of sustainability brought forward by the United Nations, namely environmental responsibility, social solidarity, and economic performance, have to be kept in balance. To this end, “we cannot respond in silos,” he affirms. And the interrelated consequences of the pandemic seem to prove him right.


Transversal consequences and solutions

Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the true interconnectedness of all sectors. For example, Stéphanie Dagron, Professor of Law at the University of Geneva, shows how the current health crisis is actually a human rights crisis, revealing long-established social inequalities. Maria J. Santos, Professor in Earth System Science at the University of Zurich, puts forward the challenges brought by concurrent shocks, especially concerning pandemics, biodiversity and climate change. Indeed, those three elements share similar characteristics: they are all non-natural phenomena and, most importantly, they have a strong impact on one another.

While the consequences unfold, solutions can also be found in and across various sectors. According to Ralph Ossa, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich, international trade is one of them. He explains how resilient international trade has been during the pandemic: as demand for non-tradable goods has suffered, the one for tradable goods has thrived. International trade has thus been a key contributor in the global resilience, allowing to adapt to new living and working conditions, such as the implementation of home office, while at the same time enabling transportation of medical supplies.

For Alois Zwinggi, Chair of the Innovation Council at Innosuisse and Member of the Managing Board at the World Economic Forum, innovation and technology are two important elements to prepare and put production, people and the planet back on their feet. To this end, Innosuisse has launched an initiative to support science innovation dealing with the accelerated digitalisation occurring because of the pandemic, but also tackling the issues of climate change and working towards sustainability.

According to Prof. Stéphanie Dagron, the pre-existing socio-economic crisis drastically undermines the efforts to limit the current pandemic. To palliate those issues, she argues that technical preparation of countries is not enough. Indeed, she is convinced that human rights to health, the right to social protection as well as other socio-economic rights, have to be taken into account in the countries’ preparedness to pandemics. “It is the combined attention for the protection and promotion of all those rights that is in my view essential for a more rapid and sustainable recovery”, she affirms.


Resilience as a pre-emptive activity

“Building resilience is done before things happen, it is a pre-emptive activity. Once you are in reaction mode, it’s too late” indicates Dr Quentin Ladetto, research director at armasuisse, emphasising the importance of foresight. More than forecast, he argues, foresight is about “opening minds, presenting alternatives, challenging assumptions and removing cognitive biases.” The invisible has thus to become visible, the unpredictable to become predictable. Yet, to make sense of multisectoral and global challenges, a transversal approach is key.


“Resilience does not exist in isolation, but as a world community”

Dr Amanda Hosken

For Dr Amanda Hosken, Global Head of Life and Health Solutions at Swiss Re, it is thus crucial that people who have data and knowledge take the responsibility to share information. This is the only way to initiate a crucial global discussion across civil society, public, private and academic sectors. Indeed, she reaffirms, “resilience does not exist in isolation, but as a world community”.


What now?

“No rocket science, but practical down to earth steps: know against what to be resilient, prioritise, act”

Dr Quentin Ladetto


What are the concrete actions to take in order to set up this much-needed resilience across sectors? To illustrate this point, Dr Quentin Ladetto suggests a telling metaphor: “building resilience is like building a forest”. To ensure every single tree grows, actors have to determine priorities and make decisions accordingly. This is “no rocket science”, he explains, “but practical down to earth steps: know against what to be resilient, prioritise, act”. For the first leaves to grow, a society should dedicate resources to foresight.

The “Shaping Resilient Societies” initiative will continue to bring actors together and initiate concrete actions towards resilience.

Watch the «Best of» video of the event.

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