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Nurturing trust in the time of COVID-19

Nurturing trust in the time of COVID-19

Diana El Kaissy, Executive Director of the Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative (LOGI) and a member of the EITI International Board and the Chair of its Outreach and Candidature Committee, explains the value of platforms such the EITI during the pandemic era.

COVID-19 has pushed governments, non-governmental agencies and companies to press the “adaptability button” and think outside the box. Surviving during the times of COVID-19 is a tricky act. Just as with the human body, the pandemic pulls on every single thread that holds societies and economies together and attack through their weakest points.

After only a year, COVID-19 has been able to change, perhaps irreversibly, the economic and social state of the world. It has pushed nations to the edge of their comfort zone, challenging their healthcare, social and economic systems.

But it is exactly there, at the very edge of our comfort zone, where we find ourselves preparing for change. The pandemic’s ripple effect on the global economy has pushed countries and different stakeholders to adopt a new way of thinking.

This was profoundly felt in the energy sector, which was one of the most prominent sectors to bear a direct blow from COVID-19. When much of the world went into lockdown to restrict the spread of the virus, mobility – which consumes 57% of global oil demand at the local, regional and international level – decreased substantially. Admittedly, this reduced dependence on fossil fuels and coal may have been the pandemic’s silver lining. For climate change campaigners, it became the perfect time to present their case.

However, care should be taken when celebrating behavioural change in the natural resources sector. It is the backbone of many economies and employs no less than 60 million workers. Dependence on revenues from natural resources has been woven into our social fabric over time. Energy transition, is as its name indicates, means redrawing the roadmap for economies and phasing out the use of fossil fuel to a cleaner form of energy that has no carbon footprint.

It is critical during this phase of global instability that an inclusive and participatory approach is adopted at the national level. Only in this way will the concerns and priorities of the different stakeholders be considered, and a just energy transition be achieved. Ensuring that the sustainability of jobs in the energy sector is not jeopardised by the decision to change the energy mix at a national level is paramount. 

But how inclusive and participatory can countries be in these times of strife and change? And what is needed to main trust and open dialogue?

Current events are fuelling further restrictions on civic space and giving birth to violent protests.

According to Carnegie’s Global Protest Tracker, more than 50 protests have broken out across the globe since March 2020. The Global Protest Tracker indicates that most of these protests are occurring in resource-rich regions like Africa and the Middle East. Seventy-eight percent of these protests were against authoritarian or authoritarian-leaning countries. Countries such as Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Tunisia and Uganda have witnessed bloody protests that show a blatant absence of trust and agreement amongst the different local players.

Incubators of trust such as the EITI offer a clear solution to the increasing chaos resulting from the pandemic. The multi-stakeholder approach is vital to discussing how to manage a sector that is highly affected by the economic meltdown caused by COVID-19.

Trust – the glue of societies and the catalyst for sustainable evolution – is built through increasing credibility, reliability and understanding of others. More and more countries are realising the value of the EITI during such challenging times. We are seeing countries that have been ridden with conflict and mistrust, such as Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Lebanon and Uganda move towards implementing the EITI Standard. Such countries are aware that the EITI can create much-needed space for the different stakeholders to discuss vital issues such as management of energy resources, energy transition and employment, incubate trust and enhance meaningful communication amongst its citizens.

The world today needs to hold on to platforms such as the EITI that allow for collective action and strategic thinking.