2020 was like a vertigo-experience for all of us—sometimes it felt like living secluded, confined in the idea of a fictitious border at the edge of the world, and harking back to those memories we have made before the pandemic tumbled upon us.
Governments across the world implemented strict guidelines to maintain social distancing; consequently, we wound up reminiscing about the good old past of being together with our friends and loved ones, needless to say, to keep ourselves safe from the novel coronavirus.
But while being trapped in our own homes, we found ourselves rejuvenated—at least for the time being—through several social media platforms. These platforms made our lives a bit easier in tough times and connected us over the Internet.
COVID-19 has pushed us to a new horizon. As the virus started to transmit from person-to-person, health experts emphasized on social distancing, which caused us to work, attend classes, and run businesses from home. Therefore, many social media platforms became popular overnight, such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, to smoothly run essential operations. Although various businesses shut down to maintain social distancing, numerous offices and educational institutions continued their operational activities.
But, what about people’s entertainment or connection to the world for their mental wellbeing? Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Likee, and Snapchat have made us more connected to our friends, family, and peers than ever. In the physical world, where we cannot meet and greet most of the people in our lives, these platforms have easily connected us all.
Because of this, we have entered a new era of communication. The technology was readily available to the people, but this unprecedented scenario has necessarily made us more tech-savvy, giving us a boost to enter a more connected, more digitized world. And this is similar to Bangladesh as well.
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The Government of Bangladesh had announced general holidays and suggested people stay at home unless there is an emergency. And to keep everyone healthy, most of the people obliged and remained in isolation.
To make this isolated life more bearable, all these media have kept pushing their boundaries to connect more people to their loved ones with various instinctive features. On top of these, multiple social media have started giving the users correct ways to stay healthy and keep all of their loved ones fit, which came to be convenient for many people.
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When the first wave of coronavirus reached its peak, various false news regarding the virus started to spread, which created confusion among many people. Various apps opened up their own dashboards to disseminate credible news and information, sourcing from credible organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO). Additionally, this information flow kept the users away from all the myths circulating about coronavirus. Therefore, users became more aware of the disease and helped them to take proper precautions.
Likee, Singapore-based short video creation and sharing platform had also taken similar initiatives. While connecting people through the app, it spread positivity throughout the direst times. Numerous popular social influencers created posts to inspire their followers to stay safe during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to do so even now. These vastly helped us with our overall isolation and connected us with the people we adore or follow while keeping us a bit safer.
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Digital revolution has taken over Bangladesh, a country soon to turn 50 years old. As social media helped us stick to each other regardless of distance during the pandemic crisis, if used smartly and responsibly it will help us in numerous new ways as we move forward.
The writer is Head of Global PR & Communications, Likee
As we approach the end of this very challenging year of COVID-19, Thais around the world are commemorating our National Day on 5 th December, which is also the birthday of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great, Thai Father’s Day, and World Soil Day. All these occasions remind us of how our nation has evolved
this far and what institutional forces have kept such progress moving.
Old friends of Thailand might be familiar with stories about the monarchy, whose dedication to nation-building and development are intrinsically interwoven into every chapter of our history. The royal family’s cherished commitment towards the welfare of her people was particularly recognised after the Second World War when
Thailand had to gather all its strength and resources to combat poverty and maintain security. The kingdom was then blessed with the will power to steer itself through those troubles when His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great, whose name coincidentally means “Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power,” acceded to the throne in 1946 at the age of eighteen.
As a constitutional monarchy, the sovereign does not wield any power beyond ceremonial duties. But the King and members of the royal family have the liberty to initiate any charitable activities and development projects and complement government efforts. Throughout the 70-year reign of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great, around 4,877 royal projects in various fields were initiated to reduce development gaps nationwide. While most projects were financially supported by the government, many of them were fully financed by His Majesty’s personal funds.
When I started working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the 1970s, these development projects were just being crystallised. I recall how Thai people keenly followed the televised reports of the King’s visits upcountry every evening. Thais valued and became familiar with images of the King holding a wrinkled, well-used map
in his hands and a camera hanging from his neck, sweat dripping from his brow, interacting attentively with locals to understand their concerns and environment.
Likewise, the monarchy and the people have always had close and intimate contact, enabling both sides to develop a kinship type of relationship, rather than one of an authoritative nature. Hence, designating 5 th December as Father’s Day actually originated from the genuine sentiment of the people, who cherished their beloved King as a father figure -- a pillar of strength one could always rely upon when in need. Indeed, it was during the turbulent Cold War years that His Majesty led his people through some of Thailand’s most challenging times.
An important point worth noting is that it has been customary for the monarchy to stand with the people and to improve their wellbeing. For instance, I remember that it was also in the 1970s that Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra, the grandmother of His Majesty the present King, established two foundations for community development.
The first is the Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage, initially founded as the Thai Hill Crafts Foundation to create livelihoods and generate income for ethnic minorities in Northern Thailand. The second is the Princess Mother’s Medical Volunteer Foundation, established in 1974, the year I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Princess paid frequent trips to remote villages, taking with her a medical team to treat any sick or injured persons during her visit. This is important because in certain remote areas of the country, access to public health services was quite limited. Stateless people living along the border areas were given treatment just the same. The Foundation is a living testament to her community spirit and non- discriminatory community service in public health which has carried on until today.
Not long after in 1976, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit The Queen Mother set up the SUPPORT Foundation to preserve traditional handicraft techniques and promote them as supplementary sources of income for farmers who have spare time after harvest.
Fast forward to my ambassadorial postings in the 1990s through to the 2000s and beyond, I had many opportunities to celebrate royal contributions to national development. One of the most memorable occasions was the UNGA’s resolution to declare 5 th December as World Soil Day, to highlight the importance of healthy soil for sustainable development and commemorate His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great’s advocacy in this field. Agriculture was a favourite subject for him since it is so vital for our people’s livelihood.
Thailand nowadays has changed immensely from the time when I was a junior diplomat. Economic growth in the last three decades has elevated the country to the upper middle income echelon, and has urbanised the lifestyle of most Thais and the way they perceive the world. State mechanisms have matured, becoming more effective in addressing the grievances of the people. Thai people are more self-dependent, better educated, and have access to opportunities for better prospects in life.
In the fast-changing world where human touch seems to be dominated by virtual interactions, many people have forgotten how the monarchy has stood up for Thai people through thick and thin, and now often take the monarchy for granted. Some, including the more confident and expressive younger generations, are not even certain how to relate the institution to their daily lives, as they did not grow up, like my generation, to experience how the monarchy was directly involved in improving the livelihood of Thai people and Thailand’s status in the international arena.
Nevertheless, in such times, the monarchy has always remained steadfast in its conviction and has never stepped back from assisting the people, often quietly, while expecting nothing in return.
Last year the world saw the ceremonial grandeur of the Coronation of King Rama X, or His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua. In his Oath of Accession, he pledged “to treasure, preserve and build on our heritage…..for the great enduring good of the people.” His Majesty has never forgotten the solemn commitment of continuing the royal practice to help and empower the Thai people to be self-reliant.
His Majesty has supported the royal initiatives of his royal parents and other members of the royal family in numerous endeavours. Many are focused on promoting sustainable development, therefore contributing to Thailand’s achievements in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For example, since 1978, His Majesty has strategically inaugurated 21 Somdej Phrayuparaj Hospitals in the most remote areas of the country, where they were most needed. More currently, His Majesty madesignificant donations of medical equipment during COVID-19, supporting SDG 3 on good health and well-being. On education, His Majesty set up the Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn Scholarship Foundation, which has provided scholarships for 1,764
students to receive proper education from high school to bachelor’s degree. This
corresponds to SDG 4 on quality education.
His Majesty’s projects are a reflection that sustainable development can only be attained through a community-wide team spirit and concerted efforts to improve society. To transform this vision into action, he launched the Royal Initiative Volunteer Project to engage the people in public service activities. Such activities strengthen the
bond within communities and remind us of how Thai communities throughout history and around the world have always come together to overcome hardships.
The monarchy has been a guiding beacon and stabilising force in Thailand for eight centuries. As some critics have stated, monarchies hold institutional memories of tradition and continuity in ever changing times. They undeniably remind a country of its unique traits and identity, facts that can often be forgotten in the swiftly changing currents of politics. In a volatile and complex world, we are in constant need of inspirational strength of stability to keep our feet on the ground, so that we will not be too easily blown away by the winds of uncertainty. The monarchy is, of course, one of these invaluable institutions that has stood the test of time and serves as an enduring link between our inspirational past, our dynamic present, and our promising future.
History of human beings is a history of being driven basically by collective interest, not by personal interest. Economists made us believe that we are driven only by personal interest, and act accordingly through profit maximization. It is time to restore our core identity by making businesses to serve society’s needs first and foremost; profit cannot come at the expense of human well-being, and human life. Nowhere should that be more true than our health—which was enshrined by our leaders as a fundamental right when I was merely 6 years old, in the 1946 constitution of the World Health Organization.
It is tragic today that the pharmaceutical industry—which has been appropriately lauded for producing safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines in record time—has been pursuing secretive monopolistic deals with the fruits of taxpayer-funded innovation, rather than volunteering to hand over IP rights and know-how for the next great task facing humanity: getting those vaccines to everyone, everywhere, at the lowest cost possible, at the fastest possible time.
Make no mistake: unless we collectively take on this task with single-minded determination, the consequences will be dire and long-lasting. Already, richer countries in Europe and America have locked up most of the global supply of vaccines for their own populations, pushing lower income nations to the back of the queue. As we emerge into 2021, rather than having a sense of possibility of a vaccine-led ending of the pandemic, many in the global south is gripped with a sense of dread and anger at the big new social chasm that’s about to open: between the vaccine haves and have-nots.
The longer the pandemic goes on anywhere, the more people will continue to die and the more the virus will have a chance to mutate and become vaccine resistant, threatening new waves everywhere. Meanwhile, under current mechanisms such as COVAX, which are commendable, there simply will not be enough vaccine doses to go around by the end of 2021. Global North is hardly in a mood to listen to Dr. Tedros’s solemn warning - “No one is safe until everyone is safe.”
To face this long year ahead, countries urgently need to ramp up diagnostics tools, get access to potentially effective treatments at the lowest cost, and vaccinate their most at-risk as rapidly as possible—such as healthcare providers and the elderly.
That’s why nearly a hundred countries are supporting a proposal at the World Trade Organization this month to issue a broad-based general waiver on patents to all Covid-19 vaccines and medical technologies. With South Africa, a country where the tragic history of needless lives lost to the HIV/Aids pandemic looms large, as a leading co-sponsor of the proposal.
A simple declaration to allow the vaccine to be patent- free, will transform the situation dramatically. Instead
we see a clear emergence of North-South divide on this very issue of saving human lives in countries where most of the global population live.
Rich countries, such as the US, Canada, Australia, and Japan, have so far remained together to oppose the resolution which will allow income countries the ability to focus on getting life-saving COVID-19 medical technologies to their people at the lowest cost, without the fear of being sued for infringing intellectual property rights getting in the way. What’s perhaps sadder is that Brazil has abandoned its long-held positions and joined the group of countries which oppose patent free production of these vaccines.
It is the right time for G20 leaders to show that they mean every word when they declare their policy of “sparing no effort” to leave no one behind. They have to rise up to show that their actions speak louder than their own words.
European leaders have a choice before them as they head into the EU Council meetings led by Chancellor Merkel—whether to look only within their own borders and put the financial interests of their pharmaceutical companies first, or renounce vaccine capitalism forcefully and stand in solidarity with the world’s most vulnerable people. If Europe joins the global south to put people above patents and enable countries to waive IP rights, then it will decisively tip the scale to pass the resolution with three-fourth of the votes at the WTO.
Climate crisis has already made the human being as the most endangered species in the planet. Now pandemic is set to escalating it by leaving the South with no vaccine, and worse yet, with a flood of fake vaccines, unless we care to protect them with one simple decision to cancel IP rights on vaccine production, the way it was done in the case of polio vaccine.
Joining hands to reach a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine to all corners of the world, as fast as possible, at the least cost possible—could launch humanity into this new decade with a foundation of renewed trust in our ability to survive together, and a renewed confidence that we can change the status of human being from being the ‘most endangered species’ to the status of the ‘saviour species’.
I hope European leaders do not miss this historic chance.
*Professor Muhammad Yunus launched a call for the Covid-19 vaccine to be a Common Good, which has been joined by 24 other Nobel Laureates and another 100+ eminent global figures. Nearly one million people globally have also joined him on this call to make Covid-19 vaccines and medical technologies available everywhere without barriers related to intellectual property and know-how.
An abridged version of this article was published in Politico on December 9, 2020, see link: https://www.politico.eu/article/europe-coronavirus-vaccine-race-g20-global-south-covax/?fbclid=IwAR2Owbhlmn5kWlM6jnapl3z1f3-fowYR7GLKuBD8qBj_CCX2yR_Gv7iesd8
As the world marks the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change, a promising movement for carbon neutrality is taking shape. By next month, countries representing more than 65 per cent of harmful greenhouse gasses and more than 70 per cent of the world economy will have committed to achieve net zero emissions by the middle of the century.
At the same time, the main climate indicators are worsening. While the Covid-19 pandemic has temporarily reduced emissions, carbon dioxide levels are still at record highs – and rising. The past decade was the hottest on record; Arctic sea ice in October was the lowest ever, and apocalyptic fires, floods, droughts and storms are increasingly the new normal. Biodiversity is collapsing, deserts are spreading, oceans are warming and choking with plastic waste. Science tells us that unless we cut fossil fuel production by 6 per cent every year between now and 2030, things will get worse. Instead, the word is on track for a 2 per cent annual rise.
Pandemic recovery gives us an unexpected yet vital opportunity to attack climate change, fix our global environment, re-engineer economies and re-imagine our future. Here is what we must do:
First, we need build a truly global coalition for carbon neutrality by 2050.
The European Union has committed to do so. The United Kingdom, Japan, the Republic of Korea and more than 110 countries have done the same. So, too, has the incoming United States administration. China has pledged to get there before 2060.
Every country, city, financial institution and company should adopt plans for net zero -- and act now to get on the right path to that goal, which means cutting global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 compared with 2010 levels. In advance of next November’s UN Climate Conference in Glasgow, Governments are obligated by the Paris Agreement to be ever more ambitious every five years and submit strengthened commitments known as Nationally Determined Contributions, and these NDCs must show true ambition for carbon neutrality.
Technology is on our side. It costs more to simply run most of today’s coal plants than it does to build new renewable plants from scratch. Economic analysis confirms the wisdom of this path. According to the International Labour Organization, despite inevitable job losses, the clean energy transition will create 18 million net new jobs by 2030. But we must recognize the human costs of decarbonization, and support workers with social protection, re-skilling and up-skilling so that the transition is just.
Second, we need to align global finance with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, the world’s blueprint for a better future.
It is time to put a price on carbon; end fossil fuel subsidies and finance; stop building new coal power plants; shift the tax burden from income to carbon, from taxpayers to polluters; make climate-related financial risk disclosures mandatory; and integrate the goal of carbon neutrality into all economic and fiscal decision-making. Banks must align their lending with the net zero objective, and asset owners and managers must decarbonize their portfolios.
Third, we must secure a breakthrough on adaptation and resilience to help those already facing dire impacts of climate change.
That’s not happening enough today: adaptation represents only 20 per cent of climate finance. This hinders our efforts to reduce disaster risk. It also isn’t smart; every $1 invested in adaptation measures could yield almost $4 in benefits. Adaptation and resilience are especially urgent for small island developing states, for which climate change is an existential threat.
Next year gives us a wealth of opportunities to address our planetary emergencies, through major United Nations conferences and other efforts on biodiversity, oceans, transport, energy, cities and food systems. One of our best allies is nature itself: nature-based solutions could provide one-third of the net reductions in greenhouse gas emissions required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Indigenous knowledge can help to point the way. And as humankind devises strategies for preserving the environment and building a green economy, we need more women decision-makers at the table.
COVID and climate have brought us to a threshold. We cannot go back to the old normal of inequality and fragility; instead we must step towards a safer, more sustainable path. This is a complex policy test and an urgent moral test. With decisions today setting our course for decades to come, we must make pandemic recovery and climate action two sides of the same coin.
[Op-ed article by UN Secretary-General António Guterres]
Climate change is a global problem that requires global solutions.
From the devastating monsoon season in Bangladesh to wildfires in the United States that have forced more than half a million people from their home. While the world has been focused on dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic, climate change has continued to rage on.
But while climate change affects us all, it does not do so equally. Those that have contributed the least, are suffering the most.
Developed countries like the United Kingdom have a responsibility to support others around the world to adapt to the realities of our changing climate.
As President of the next United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, and former UK Government International Development Secretary, this is a personal priority for me.
While it is vital that we strive to limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees, we must also remember that even if we could miraculously stop global emissions rising today, the world would still need to deal with significant and widespread climate disruption.
That is why at COP26 adaptation to climate impacts, and building long term resilience, will be a priority.
This will be one of the five areas the UK will focus on in the run up to the conference, alongside: protecting and restoring natural habitats; accelerating the transition to zero emission vehicles and clean energy; and increasing financial support to tackle climate change whilst ensuring financial decisions are aligned with the Paris Agreement.
We will use COP26 to scale up support so those most urgently affected by climate change can adapt and build resilience to our changing environment.
As part of this, I encourage all countries to come forward with ambitious adaptation plans and ensure climate adaptation is taken into account in all relevant policy making decisions.
The UK is already prioritising adaptation and resilience. At home we have worked to build resilience within our own flood strategies and defences. Abroad, we have doubled our international climate finance to £11.6 billion over the next 5 years.
And alongside our work on adaptation and resilience, at COP26 we will also take forward the multilateral negotiations to fulfill the landmark Paris Agreement - which committed all countries to work to limit further rises in global temperatures.
On December 12 we will co-host an event with the UN to mark the five-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement. Every country subject to the Paris Agreement, 196 nations in total, will be invited to the virtual event, which will call on leaders to demonstrate their commitment to climate action through finance and adaptation announcements.
The summit will also be an opportunity for world leaders to announce new and enhanced plans to reduce carbon emissions - known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reach net zero as soon as possible.
This is the only way we can safeguard our planet for future generations and avoid further irreparable damage to the places so many call home.
The UK will use the time ahead of COP26 to raise ambition for climate action. I will listen and ensure that the views of those communities impacted the most are heard loud and clear.
It was extremely encouraging to hear the Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina speaking with great passion and commitment at the UN General Assembly recently. Her leadership of the Climate Vulnerable Forum is helping to amplify the calls from the most vulnerable countries for decisive and immediate action. This is a highly timely and welcome initiative.
However, no one country can turn the tide alone. We must all come together for the sake of both our people and our planet.
I am very pleased therefore that the UK is partnering with Bangladesh on climate action, and in the run up to COP26 we will jointly host a multi-stakeholder, virtual forum, to ensure as many voices are heard as possible. Each meeting of the forum will explore a different theme, share experiences and exchange views, and generate ideas for overcoming persistent barriers to progress. In this way, I hope the UK can learn from the experience of the most vulnerable, and we can in turn share our expertise to help others become more resilient.
Alok Sharma, the UK secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and President-elect of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) to be held in Glasgow in November 2021