Could COVID-19 usher in massive systemic change?

The COVID-19 situation in Italy (with over 59,000 total confirmed cases and—tragically—more than 5,400 deaths) has forced a fundamental shift in daily life and with that—unleashed major economic disruptions, exposing the built-in blindspots and shortcomings of our systems, but also, an opportunity to turn things around.

The lived experience of people in Italy during its widely publicised “darkest hour” is emergent and contains nuance. The only things written in stone are the emergency containment measures the Italian government issued, which everyone must observe. Schools are closed; students are receiving their lessons online and this is adding to the diversity and richness of their experiences, with parents and family members getting involved, and greater amounts of autonomous working. Italian schools are seeing the opportunity of mass education experiences; connecting with other schools around the world is becoming increasingly normalised. Italy might shift from a method of teaching in schools that relies on purchasing hard copies of heavy textbooks to the much lighter, cheaper and climate-friendly soft copy. 

Only commodities shops and pharmacies are open. Manufacturing industries can continue production but have to observe strict safety measures. Approximately five million workers are now working from home—keeping cars off the road and giving working mothers and fathers an extra two to three hours a day to be more productive or to be with their families. Commuting is dramatically reduced and the air is cleaner according to the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research. The world of entertainment and culture has invaded social networks: Musicians, performers, TV presenters, influencers and museums have virtually opened their doors to the public.

It is a massive explosion of online communication.  

The Italian Prime Minister’s approach to containing the COVID-19 virus is strict yet transparent. People must stay home and public gatherings are forbidden. All Italians are obliged to follow the rules or sanctions are foreseen. To avoid fake news, panic and uncontrolled fear, the Italian government decided to position itself as a legitimate source of information about the country’s COVID-19 status, updating residents on total infections, deaths, recoveries and other national figures as well as information related to health services and recommended public health practices. While there is still a strong desire to meet face-to-face, people are by and large following the rules: The hashtag #iorestoacasa (stay home) is trending.

So, what about EIT Climate-KIC in Italy? True to the organisation’s commitment to transform systems for an inclusive, prosperous and net-zero society, the Italian team is treating this historic moment as a big, strategic experiment to test new ways of working. EIT Climate-KIC owns tools and technologies to work more efficiently, manage online meetings and collaborate via digital channels, and these are now being deployed to their full potential.

“We have learned for online meetings to work well they need to be designed in a different way. It is not just switching the video on and starting to work, a different level of planning is required,” suggests the Edgeryders’ Distributed Collaboration Manual (supported by EIT Climate-KIC). 

Moreover:

“Our Learning Platform, which operates 24/7 and is free is seeing a huge uptake in usage,” said the Italian team. 

As a learning organisation, EIT Climate-KIC is choosing to approach the instability and uncertainty of this situation as an opportunity to re-think business-as-usual. It’s a chance to deepen its way of dealing with remote meetings, and improve the teams’ capacities to work together and support its community while drastically reducing carbon emissions. After this crisis, the teams won’t be the same. They will emerge much wiser.

Even though COVID-19 and climate change ‘behave’ differently, they both require huge economic trade-offs, behaviour change, courageous deeds such as centering social justice and taking care of the vulnerable—what we call systemic transformation, systemic because many interconnected parts of society need to shift, not just a few people or institutions. 

The Italian government made its decision on where to allocate public resources (coronavirus is on the top of the list). With a greater understanding of the importance of public health and intergenerational thinking, perhaps climate change mitigation and adaption, a circular and regenerative economy, and green innovation are no longer distant dreams. And, might the public sector, which is now aggressively fighting the virus, re-think its role in bringing these things to pass? In other words, will there be more political buy-in to implement the Green New Deal’s measures and raise climate ambition?

As Italians face the unprecedented tragedy and emergency that is COVID-19, they are attempting to find hope, posting #onegoodthing from their day on social media, including moving videos of residents singing together from their balconies as they remain physically isolated from each other. Similarly, EIT Climate-KIC’s Italian team is trying to remain optimistic, wondering if Italy—and the world—might see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ towards a zero-carbon transition, as it addresses this, its “darkest hour.”

 

How can we re-frame climate change as a ‘mission’?

EIT Climate-KIC is collaborating with several European institutions and governments to create the cities, industries, economies and landscapes of the future—work that’s inspired by professor Mariana Mazzucato and her concept of big-picture, high-ambition innovation “missions” to address the enormous transformation challenges we face. EIT Climate-KIC is working with her paradigm shift in economics (“changing the direction of growth”) as it has chosen to position itself as an orchestrator of an innovation ecosystem, connecting climate demand with supply and thereby catalysing transformational systemic change. During this process, public and private actors are brought together—businesses and states, individuals and cities. 

“In EIT Climate-KIC’s strategy ‘Transformation, in time,’ it states that gradual, incremental changes will not be enough. What is needed now is a fundamental transformation of systems that will trigger an exponential change in decarbonisation rates and strengthen climate resilience,” affirmed EIT Climate-KIC Italy.

EIT Climate-KIC wants to collect a portfolio of experiments on the ‘leading edge’ of exploration, focused on triggering new ways of thinking, leveraging exponential effects of new technologies, networks, and community forces, and seeking to learn faster than the current pace of change. This can mean accelerating change through building new skills and mindsets, facilitating the adoption of new technologies and business models and building adaptive capabilities in individuals, communities, businesses, and cities.

EIT Climate-KIC has taken every measure to ensure its staff and community remain safe; from closing its offices to transitioning in-person meetings online. The organisation continues to address the emergency that is climate change, while also managing this new one. There is grief and we must allow ourselves the time to grieve. There is also a wave of global compassion and resolve, which could help shape entirely new and better ways of being in the world.

This article is an adaption from an article that originally appeared on EIT Climate-KIC Italy’s LinkedIn page.

 
Location
Italy
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