The unheralded turn of events attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic left the whole world confounded as there was a lot of reprioritization of programmes across all social and economic strata and Zimbabwe is no exception. Apart from the negative impacts brought about by the COVID-19 induced national lockdowns, it is important to note that it also invigorated a paradigm shift in terms of resource utilization and also ways to live in harmony as different components of ecosystems. Significant strides in actions towards the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals together with their respective targets were noticed amidst the lockdown period which showed how adaptive and responsive people can be.
The lockdowns totally barred people from converging physically in an attempt to contain the novel virus and stop it from spreading. Although many may say the lockdowns deterred them from achieving some set targets, they unlocked the possibility of making greater achievements even if people are in different geographical locations. Most people continued with their work from home and from personal experience, there were some significant lessons learnt with regards to information and communications technology (ICT) as online platforms like zoom took centre stage in bringing all professionals together. Most proactive organisations also took the opportunity to change the outlook of their operations in a bid to circumnavigate the unforeseen vicissitudes.
In terms of reach, the online platforms amplified the number of people who can attend a workshop to 150+ without having to worry about transport reimbursements and finding an appropriate venue to accommodate such a huge number. In the environmental management space, new partnerships were formed and the old ones were strengthened as workshops were being held week in week out hence making significant strides in the right direction towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 17 (Partnerships to Achieve the Goal).
A myriad of anecdotal reports were crafted and they highlighted how the pandemic induced lockdowns resulted in a reduction of human pressures on natural ecosystems and also reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from heavy industries. Most industries operate heavy machinery which emits a lot of harmful gases into the atmosphere thus causing imbalances in the aerial ecosystems and subsequently resulting in climate change. Electricity provision also improved in the country hence the reduction in the dependence on stand-by generators in the case of power cuts. Most of the emissions recorded were heavily attributed to the operation of these generators for long hours.
Air Emissions Monitoring post-lockdown
Soon after the lockdowns, environmental consultancy companies resumed their duties to measure and monitor the air emissions from industrial operations and there were notable reductions in the total pollutant load from the gas emitting machinery and appliances. These reductions mean that there was partial attainment of targets for some of the SDGs e.g. SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), SDG 13 (Climate Action), and SDG 15 (Life on land) to mention but a few.
In the environmental consultancy industry, the challenge which was being faced was that of having to meet physically with all the relevant stakeholders when carrying out an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for development projects. The shift to electronic communication led to a significant reduction in travelling hence improvements inefficient service delivery, economic development, reduction in car exhaust emissions, and reduction in paper usage. The challenges in mobility also incited a change in the modus operandi of the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) as they declared the agency paperless hence a significant reduction in paper usage as well. Reduction in paper usage means a reduction in the number of trees required for that cause, hence biodiversity conservation. The shift from physical to virtual operations comes as a merit in the business industry as it helps in cutting down resource utilization significantly.
It is also imperative to applaud the efforts made by the youths from various sectors in pushing the sustainable development agenda with an amplified voice. Youth-led organisations such as Zimbabwe Youth Biodiversity Network (ZYBN) and Advocates 4 Earth took the initiative to make this a success. Youths got the opportunity to share their experiences and mapping the way forward in the post-pandemic era. They also got the opportunity to review the Zero Draft of the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework and developed a position paper with recommendations to be incorporated in the final framework through a virtual workshop organised by ZYBN. This clearly shows that the youth are fully committed to ensuring sound environmental stewardship.
However, with new strategies comes a new set of challenges as well. Some of the key virtual meetings which were hosted failed to meet the objectives due to technical glitches and also lack of knowhow in running the applications properly. There is a need for all professionals in various sectors of the economy to come to terms with the fact that there is a new normal which involves a chain of virtual interactions. This needs a collaborative and multi-sectoral approach for enhanced efficiency in engagements. It is also imperative for the various workshop hosts to consider marginalized groups i.e. people from poverty-stricken backgrounds and people living with disabilities when carrying out the virtual workshops so that there is enhanced inclusivity using a “no one is left behind” approach (https://mashable.com/article/zoom-video-accessibility-features/ ).