International Environmental and Sustainability Policy During and After the Covid-19 Pandemic

Dr. Harald Ginzky
Jan Kosmol
Dr. Kathrin Schwirn

The Coronavirus pandemic has changed the world. Geopolitical tensions, for example between China and the USA, as well as existing conflicts between the EU states appear to have become more severe. In addition, the pandemic has significantly intensified the crisis phenomenon in the Global South, while countries of the Global North have often been better able to deal with the impacts of the crisis through government interventions. The gap between the countries of the Global North and the Global South thus threatens to be even deepened. The pandemic could also lead to fundamental political instability in countries in both the Southern and Northern hemisphere (e.g. USA, Brazil and other countries in the Global South).

In particular, the pandemic has underscored the mutual dependence as well the fragility of the worldwide interrelationship as a result of globalised economy and international hypermobility. It seems that a competent and successful crisis management can be achieved only through good governance on all levels. One further success criterion seems to be the confidence of citizens in the state and its institutions. This is true – worldwide and especially in the countries of the Global South. Furthermore, countries with efficient (public) health systems have been obviously more successful at managing the crisis. Well-developed digital communication can also support the infection prevention.

Environmental and sustainability policies with its major topics climate change, biodiversity and international chemicals management have been run under difficult conditions. Large conferences were and are still not possible, at least during the ongoing pandemic.

Against this background, the following four recommendations should guide the future international environmental and sustainability policy.

  • The One Health approach is ideally suited to align environmental, health and climate policy according to the 2030 Agenda. It requires effective and coherent cooperation between states and international organisations.
  • Resilience of the whole society - but also its various economic and social subsystems -has to become an overarching leitmotif of the environmental and sustainability policy.
    • Resilience requires that systems are able to withstand external shocks (ability to absorb and adapt) and, if necessary, to evolve (ability to transform).
    • Systems can only be resilient if they comply with the sustainability goal to “leave no-one behind”.
  • In order to guarantee and maintain resilience, public welfare-oriented governance by competent state and international institutions is needed, that enjoy citizens confidence.
  • If used wisely, digital technologies are an important tool which can help us to better understand and to manage the many different aspects of a crisis.

The following measures are recommended for international environmental and sustainability policy.

Countries in the Global South must be supported directly in addressing the challenges of the pandemic - in both health and economic policy. Countries in the Global North carry great responsibility because of international economic interdependence, structural inequalities and the need to build resilience.

Furthermore, measures must be taken to possibly reduce the risk of future zoonoses and pandemics. The One Health approach must be implemented and the current management standards need to be reviewed accordingly. Dense surveillance networks and adequate information systems must also be set up effectively in all countries. International cooperation between the FAO, the WHO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) as well as the CBD and, where necessary, the IMO and/or fisheries organisations (RFMOs) is strongly recommended for this purpose.

Finally, the following measures are recommended:

  • Strengthening the nexus of health and environmental protection across all sectoral policies of international environmental and sustainability policy
  • Strengthening of the above-mentioned four leitmotifs by the approval either through soft law instruments or as hard law, such as the “Global Pact for the Environment” or the “New Global Deal” proposed by UN Secretary-General Guterres
  • Use of virtual formats to increase inclusion, to ensure all perspectives are considered and to promote scientific exchange between states and/or international organisations and science
  • Institutionalised formats of collecting, processing and providing knowledge on the leitmotif of resilience e.g. through IPBES
  • Promoting international cooperation between cities and communities and strengthening the international institutional setting of this cooperation
  • Amending corporate due diligence obligations pursuant human rights by environmental and climate protection requirements

These are just initial ideas. It is clear that a strengthened and intensified international cooperation is certainly needed. This is because economic globalisation requires a framework of requirements by international agreements that guarantee the resilience of globalised economic activity and the transformation towards environmental and climate compatibility.

Dr. Harald Ginzky

German Environment Agency
Dr. Harald Ginzky works as research and policy officer at the German Environment Agency. He deals with the topics Climate Geo-Engineering, protection...

Jan Kosmol

German Environment Agency
Jan Kosmol is a research and policy officer at the German Environment Agency. He works in the area of resource efficiency and circular economy with a...

Dr. Kathrin Schwirn

German Environment Agency
Dr.-Ing Kathrin Schwirn is a research and policy officer at the German Environment Agency in the section IV2.2 Pharmaceuticals and Nanomaterials since...

Add new comment