COVID-19, Sustainability Always Rings Twice

16 Pages Posted: 17 Feb 2021 Last revised: 10 Mar 2021

Date Written: October 31, 2020


After consulting the relevant scientific literature and the reports of international institutions, the authors trace the environmental and social causes behind the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, describing its impacts and suggesting some routes to a sustainable recovery. The starting point is the finding that the world is experiencing a sustainability crisis. Sustainability can be said to “always rings twice”: the first “ring” is an alert of its absence, which probably determined the explosion of the pandemic crisis (and its consequences and impacts), while the second “ring” is presenting an opportunity to change the current development model. To fully understand the pandemic’s origins, the links between the scientific knowledge on the origin of the virus and the holistic visions for sustainable development must be assessed, to focus on the causes (and not on the symptoms) of the pandemic, which the scientific community had widely predicted. The loss of biodiversity, population trends and the direct and indirect consequences of climate change have deeply affected the balance of ecosystems and attacked the natural “buffer” that separated humans from animal species that are reservoir hosts of viruses. These causes found fertile ground in the great human mobility of 21st century economic globalisation and in the environmental and social conditions in some of the world’s heavily industrialised areas. This set of conditions, combined with a general short-circuiting of border controls between countries, allowed the epidemic to evolve into a pandemic and become more lethal in the process. What we are currently experiencing is unfortunately the mother of all the negative externalities associated with a social and economic development model that has become unsustainable.

The last part of the article outlines the main elements for a sustainable recovery that is coherent with the majority of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. They are grouped in strategic directions and many are now widely shared.

Keywords: COVID, biodiversity, climate, sustainability, social impacts; SDGs

JEL Classification: O, Q, H

Suggested Citation

Stampa, Marco and Calace, Donato and Ferro, Nicoletta, COVID-19, Sustainability Always Rings Twice (October 31, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Marco Stampa (Contact Author)

Saipem SpA ( email )


Donato Calace

LUM Jean Monnet University ( email )

Casamassima, BA 70010

Nicoletta Ferro

Datamaran ( email )

United Kingdom

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