Agreements are good, but then they must be put into practice

Columnist: Roberto Di Meglio


The document approved at the G20 for the Environment, celebrated in Naples in July 2021, formally reaffirms the commitments of the Paris Agreement. Unfortunately, the goals of halving emissions by 2030 and phasing out the use of coal are not present.

Leaving aside the possible explanations for the lack of an agreement on decarbonization, it is important to emphasize that it is a priority, as the Economist’s title No safe place: The 3°C future also states.


Who pays the highest cost for the climate crisis?

Developing countries that are heavily dependent on their natural habitat are the least able in coping with climate change. However, as the Economist points out, we live in a globalized and highly interconnected world and, whether we like it or not, the cost of the climate crisis falls, albeit unevenly, on everyone. The reality of our extremely interconnected world was made dramatically evident by the Covid-19 pandemic.

People with the lowest incomes, even in developed countries (where inequality is on the rise), often live close to polluting industrial complexes or in places where toxic waste is illegally disposed of. In addition, in some large cities, such as New York, we can observe that numbers of infections and deaths, due to the Covid-19, are much higher in the suburbs where workers and families with medium to low incomes live [1].

Governments are currently facing, with many difficulties, the serious health and economic consequences of the pandemic but not its causes, which are directly linked to the disruption of ecosystems around the globe. This concept is elaborated in the UNEP report entitled Preventing the next Pandemic which underlines the need to go beyond the economic and public health effects.

Climate change and pandemics require global governance that does not currently exist (and there is none on the horizon). Other issues that require it are taxation (taxes on multinationals), labor rights and migration (on the rise). These are all issues that require a global vision and strategy.


While waiting for global governance to be created and equipped to act effectively, what is being done? Do we wait for better times to come?

Obviously not, we must act where we can, starting from the bottom, that is, from the territories, from the local levels, providing them with the skills and resources to face a world that is changing profoundly at a rapid pace.  It is not the author of this article who supports this, but the Agenda2030, adopted in September 2015 by the 193 member countries of the United Nations. In this document there is repeated reference for the need to localize sustainable development goals, integrating social, environmental and economic aspects.

The international community believes it is appropriate to integrate the different aspects of development and promote, alongside national policies, policies at the local level that are tailored to the specific characteristics of each reality. This means that each development strategy is different from the others and will require a great deal of coordination for all of them to be coherent with national and global policies. Obviously, each situation will have to be interpreted in a different way, because characteristics, history, resources and vocations are different. It is therefore impossible to make a list of things to do, but here are some examples that, in my opinion, meet the widespread needs of the times we live in and that require the joint intervention of several levels of governance.


What to do?

If we think of concrete measures, we certainly need to equip small and medium-sized municipalities with the skills and means to face the digital challenge. The current situation in this area, at least in Europe, is not at all satisfactory.

Then we need to promote different forms of doing business and support their ecosystems. Enterprises committed with the community where they operate with characteristics that make them more inclined to pursue objectives other than profit. The mantra of profit maximization frequently implies the socialization of costs and the privatization of gains. We also need an economy that has a different perspective on both health and climate. What company with the goal of maximizing profit will pay attention to the environmental impact of its actions?

It is therefore necessary to educate young people on the importance of the common good, to develop that sense of citizenship that sees respect for the environment as a fundamental value of coexistence.

In addition, the ecological transition will result in the loss of many jobs, and unless appropriate measures are put in place, many workers who lack the necessary skills will find themselves jobless and without income. Therefore, continuing with education programs, structured around the characteristics of demand in any given context, is essential to enable workers to cope with the ecological transition, as well as with the digital transition, without having to pay too high of a price.

Finally, in several countries, measures will have to be taken to counter the impact of climate change on food security. Desertification, as well as floods and natural disasters, in many cases due to human misuse of natural resources, will aggravate the already serious problem of access to food in various parts of the world. To halt this process, small farmers, who are key to food security and food sovereignty, need to be empowered. This requires policies in favour of these millions of rural workers and producers organised in self-help groups and cooperatives.

Therefore, it is important to continue this dialogue in order to find agreements that will make the world more liveable for us and for future generations. Acting from the bottom to help create the conditions that will make it possible to put into practice the desired global and national policies. Policies that, whatever be their starting point, must aim at coherence between and integration of the different dimensions of development, with the ultimate goal of achieving a new and better sustainable and inclusive normality.


[1] Source: New York City Health Department.



Roberto Di Meglio

Senior Specialist on Local Development and Social and Solidarity Economy, ILO Geneva