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Post-pandemic: Cooperatives must lead on Climate Action, Creating new Opportunities

By Paul Hazen, Executive Director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council

July 4 is Independence Day in the United States; it’s also the International Day of Cooperatives 2020. These are two of my favorite holidays because I can celebrate my country and the cooperative movement at the same time. Cooperatives are as American as apple pie and baseball. In fact, Benjamin Franklin, a founder of our country, founded U.S. cooperatives when he organized the first co-op in Philadelphia to provide fire insurance for his neighbors.

Co-ops for Climate Action is the theme for International Cooperative Day 2020, in support of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal #13 Climate Action. If there was a theme for the 4th of July 2020, I would nominate climate action. As we emerge from the current recession and learn how to live in a post-pandemic world, climate action is one of our greatest challenges — but also one of our greatest opportunities. I believe people will be looking for a vaccine to protect themselves, not only from COVID-19, but also from the shocks of climate change. Cooperatives can be the protection they need.

We know from past economic and social crises that we can expect a new wave of interest in cooperatives as people seek a different way to organize the economy and society. This was true after the Great Recession, and we are still riding that wave of cooperative interest. Now COVID-19 has exposed and highlighted the vast economic and social inequalities in the U.S. and the developing world.

The negative effects of climate change will dramatically affect the most vulnerable people around the world. As we move forward, I believe citizens will demand that policymakers, investors and businesses address these inequalities and propose systemic changes in our economy. The cooperative movement must be a leader in this systemic change.

According to Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), there are three post-pandemic priorities:

  1. Expansion of digital transformation around the world
  2. Investment in a low-carbon resilient future through reforestation, building efficiency, etc.
  3. Addressing social needs by distributing the benefits of growth more equitably

These issues are monumental, but the cooperative movement in the United States and worldwide must be part of the solution.

In the past, the cooperative movement has been mostly reactive to economic and social crises. This was a mistake. Now is the time to be proactive, with cooperative leaders seizing this unprecedented opportunity. Here are some steps that OCDC is taking:

  1. I have begun discussions with leading cooperative experts and thinkers about how the cooperative movement can lead in the post-pandemic economy and catch the next wave of interest for a more equitable economy and society.
  2. OCDC will conduct a survey of leaders in economic and social equality.
  3. The survey will be followed a series of virtual roundtables, leading to a policy paper with recommendations for the cooperative movement post-pandemic. There will be a significant focus on cooperatives in the developing world and on the opinions and visions of young people.

Cooperatives are the essence of working together to reach a common goal. Now they can be the “vaccine” the world is seeking to build a more sustainable and equitable world for everyone.

For more information about Cooperatives and Climate Action, visit ica.coop.

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