Paradoxically, in some cases, COVID-19 is helping to slow climate change and stimulate different kinds of social and technological innovations. Some climate change experts are predicting that global carbon emissions are likely to slow down as global economies slow down, as airlines cancel flights and various other means of transport are restricted around the world.
Despite COVID-19’s outbreak inside the Chinese province of Hubei, the virus is not of Chinese nationality. The science and innovation required to stop the pandemic are global. As responses from around the world demonstrate, all the diverse countries and cultures of the world are desperately searching for ways and means to stop the pandemic. The pandemic is one of the manifestations of our collective contributions to ecological degradation and climate change, and many social and economic injustices.
All countries’ socio-economic and political systems are vulnerable to the invisible virus, both rich and poor. The United States of America (U.S.) is as vulnerable as China, just as Italy is as vulnerable as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Lessons for urgently responding to COVID-19 will come from China, South Korea, Singapore and many other efforts, and the control of Ebola makes the DRC a key global source of knowledge on how to manage Ebola-related epidemics.
As Quick (2018) argues most epidemics are outcomes and manifestations of the underfunding of global public goods oriented research and innovation, particularly research on epidemics and vaccine development. Few countries have dedicated funding for international collaborative research and innovation for global public goods and few make long-term commitments to initiatives such as the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative (GAVI), International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and the Consultative Group on Agriculture Research (CGIAR).
Political institutions that promote nationalism and rigidly invoke national sovereignty to promote inaction on global threats such as COVID-19 may be wiped away by the rise of global health civic movements. Citizens may vote out leaders and their political parties that espouse extreme nationalism. Nationalism tends to be inimical to the global science and innovation required to stop COVID-19 and secure the SDGs as well as other global public goods.
Many of the conceptual approaches, such as national systems of innovation, that we use to study innovation processes and development have huge deficits and tend to mislead policy, particularly during times such as these of global multi-layered social, economic and ecological crises. They tend to make only passing reference to the interconnectedness of different countries’ research and innovation systems. Rarely do academic studies and policy measures that are founded on national systems approaches put emphasis on global or international science and innovation for societal challenges.
Global solidarity in science and innovation is what is now urgently required to fight COVID-19. It is now time to take SDG17 seriously: international partnerships to secure all the other 16 Goals. The SDG17 has explicit targets for enhancing North-South, South-South and triangular international cooperation on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), promoting access to STI and sharing knowledge to address global social, economic and environmental challenges. For example, attaining SDG3 on health and wellbeing requires international partnerships in research and vaccine development.