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All views expressed in these articles are the writers’ own and do not represent NovUM’s official or unofficial position.
Sustainability- An unsustainable concept for students?
When thinking about sustainability as a student, many feasible options quickly come to mind. First of all, it is possible to change your lifestyle, as it all comes down to the ethical choices one makes when consuming, whether it be food or other goods.
From secondhand clothing to reusable coffee mugs, there are many approaches that can be taken. As a means of transportation, most students use a bike as a way of transport, as it is the cheapest and most convenient option. Sustainability has become a trend, in which you either take part or you are pressured into taking part. However, to lead a truly sustainable lifestyle, it needs one of two things first and foremost: the effort to forego consumption or the financial means to afford expensive, sustainable products. Those who can’t participate in this trend unwillingly become seen as part of the problem.
As a student both options are rather unrealistic: Do you really have to experience the stress of restricting your consumption when you’re living through a period of strain either way? Or do you have to spend valuable money, which you earned either by working hard alongside your studies or through the support of your parents, on the more expensive, more sustainable option? The simple answer to this is no, you don’t have to. Because while every effort at sustainability is to be commended, one must not forget that one’s own resources are limited. Most importantly, we must not forget that illusion of sustainability cannot save our planet. It is not the consumer’s fault that the Earth has gotten into this situation. It is the fault of economic and political structures that already existed and acted long before this problem was recognized and named. The fact that 100 companies have been responsible for 71% of global emissions visualizes that in a drastic way.
All this does not mean, of course, that we should live completely unsustainably because we bear no responsibility anyway; every attempt to make our lives more sustainable is important. However, it is equally important to know that the antagonist is not the person who decides against sustainable options, but the economic and political structures that caused this crisis in the first place. Sustainability remains to be an admirable value, and even an achievable goal. But the effort a student must put into it to fully live up to this value might not be the most sustainable thing to do.
Vaccine equity is good economics
The coronavirus pandemic has rekindled the global debate on whether the multilateral trade regime for intellectual property rights (IPR) protection limits access to essential medical products. Despite embedded flexibilities in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), India and South Africa, co-sponsored by a large number of developing countries, submitted an initial proposal for a temporary waiver in response to Covid-19 in October 2020, followed by a revised proposal in May 2021, which continues to cause controversy and divide. The US administration voiced its support for a vaccines waiver while EU leaders indicated an openness to the discussion whilst putting forward an alternative plan with a focus on limiting export restrictions, compulsory licensing, and using the existing TRIPS mechanisms.
The WTO TRIPS Agreement has long been criticized by civil society for its level of IPR protection in access to medicines. Science and research institutes have signed a statement urging all WTO members to endorse the TRIPS waiver proposal, including provisions on copyright. Various organizations including trade unions have urged the ‘TRIPS Council’ to support the waiver. Proponents have argued the TRIPS waiver could spur innovation and competition by promoting the sharing of undisclosed information, while critics hold that the waiver could disincentivize research and development, and set a precedent that could in the future deter firms from investing in innovation. In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, this does not hold water. The majority of funding that incentivized vaccine technology innovation was derived from taxpayers’ pockets. Taxpayers supply governments with the funds to pay for a range of social goods, including research and development (R&D) that incentivize innovation. Estimates of direct public spending by the US government on the development and manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines range between $18-billion and $39.5-billion. Data from on OECD suggests that the combined spending on all R&D from government and universities by the UK, Germany, and Switzerland is estimated to be about €205-billion in 2019.
Mechanisms of sharing vaccines and the knowledge to produce vaccines have not been effective. Mostly, because they rely on charity instead of on institutionalized solidarity. Meeting global vaccine demand urgently and equitably needs cooperation in accountable international organizations. Reliance on donations must be replaced by a new system. The failure to have a truly international response to the pandemic has resulted in a tragedy of our international health commons. Governments, especially the rich ones, have chosen their short-term self-interest at the expense of a long-term international solution. Vaccine hoarding, and especially the use of patents to prevent the developing world from producing its own vaccines have made everyone worse off.
Alternatives exist but are not being explored. The international community is more than capable of building institutions that use a combination of incentives to create a global commons for critical health technologies. For instance, a common resource pool could be established to which countries would contribute a portion of their national budgets proportional to their income and population size. This resource pool would then be used to strategically incentivise research and development. It can also be used to buy or replace patents for key inventions by offering other pull incentives such as advance purchase commitments, pooling, and prizes. Such an institution’s goal would be to keep the price of life-saving technology low and keep access equitable while ensuring that mechanisms to promote innovation remain.