Time is not on our side: Building back balance through wellbeing

16 November 2020 – Post-COVID, ‘building back better’ means building resilience to future shocks whilst creating a new vision where the well-being of all citizens is guaranteed over financial growth at the expense of everything else, write Sandrine Dixson-Declève and Aileen McLeod.

First published in Euractive.

What was meant to be a ‘Super Year’, will be remembered by most as the year in which the convergence of climate and biodiversity crises reached a tipping point and spilled over into a devastating pandemic, infecting millions of people around the world and claiming over 700,000 lives, with numbers rising.

The COVID-19 crisis is the symptom of a much deeper and longer-term disruption. Science tells us that climate, biodiversity and human health are fully integrated and interdependent. Just this month, WWF’s Living Planet Report outlined how humanity’s increasing destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts not only on wildlife populations (a decline of 68% on average since 1970), but also on human health and livelihoods, food security and all other aspects of our lives.

We are in a planetary emergency and the existential risks are real. The Planetary Emergency Plan, co-authored by the Club of Rome and Potsdam Institute in collaboration with WWF, provides a roadmap for transformational action and a compass for nations to respond to the ongoing emergency. Nature, people and planet must be at the core of our planning if we wish to truly emerge from emergency more resilient.

The current socio-economic system is the underlying driver of existing social and ecological challenges, with assaults on natural systems compounding the limits to wellbeing. The biggest challenge is that the current systems do not account for the negative effects that extraction, use, and disposal of natural resources have on human wellbeing.

Financial growth is prioritised at the expense of all else; other indicators of wellbeing, such as health, education, and a clean environment, are undervalued or not valued at all.

COVID-19 and the financial consequences of the economic lockdown have been dire, and yet have made it even more apparent how the global response to global warming and biodiversity loss has been inadequate. The amount of financial support deployed or promised to the COVID-19 recovery is vast compared with any efforts related to the greening of the economy, tackling global warming, or stopping ecosystem decline.

Coming out of this crisis we need to ensure that governments and citizens understand that we are still in a planetary emergency created by humanity’s thirst for economic growth at all costs and a disrespect for our planetary boundaries.

Staying within the planetary boundaries is essential to secure a green, just and healthy future for all. How leaders decide to stimulate the economy is decisive for our future trajectory.

Without a question, the cost of inaction is much larger than the budget dedicated to the green recovery: business as usual scenarios, investments in fossil fuels and natural resource depletion would take us well beyond our planetary boundaries. We now have the opportunity to transform by design rather than by disaster.

Post-COVID, ‘building back better’ means a positive framework that builds in resilience to future shocks whilst creating a new vision where the well-being of all citizens is guaranteed measured by value based indicators and ensuring access to health, basic essentials (water, food, hygiene), employment and education whilst developing digital infrastructure that optimises people’s lives and livelihoods and a regenerative economic system not the reverse.

Our recent paper calls on European leaders to apply wellbeing economics for recovery, renewal and reform and provides a set of recommendations for the European context. This is the first publication in a global series urging new economic thinking and application in the wake of COVID-19 and in preparation for future climate, biodiversity and health crises. It is a direct response to European Commission President von der Leyen’s State of the Union address to the European Parliament last week and her recognition that COVID-19 has shown “the limits of a model that values wealth above wellbeing”. This foundational thinking is anchored ”in the first report to the Club of Rome “The Limits to Growth” and 50 years of multi-disciplinary and systems thought leadership spearheaded by the Club of Rome and its members.

Time is not on our side. We must act now to build on years of transformational change and systems logic, immediate policy changes spurred by the European Green Deal and growing citizen openness for a healthier, more sustainable and more resilient future post COVID-19.


Sandrine Dixson-Declève is co-president of The Club of Rome. Aileen McLeod is a former MEP and senior advisor to The Club of Rome.


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This article gives the views of the author(s), and not the position of The Club of Rome or its members.

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