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Vicious Crises

Treating the pandemic, climate change, lost public trust, and geopolitical tensions as standalone issues will get us nowhere. Each problem operates in a feedback loop with the others, demanding more holistic thinking and novel strategies to make up for the shortcomings of conventional global governance.

LONDON – Those who are disappointed by the inconclusive outcomes of the COP26 climate-change meeting, US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent virtual summit, or efforts to achieve COVID-19 vaccine equity need to wake up about the world we live in. Under current circumstances, global governance is guaranteed to disappoint.

In a new report, Our Global Condition, I and my colleagues on the Global Commission for Post-Pandemic Policy attribute these difficulties to the fact that we are in the grip of not one but four crises. The only way forward is to recognize the connections between planetary public health, climate change, declining public trust and democratic legitimacy, and geopolitical instability. These issues are interlinked. Treating them as separate domains will get us nowhere.

Environmental stresses increase the likelihood that zoonotic diseases will spread to humans and become pandemics. The social, political, and economic stresses introduced by a pandemic then foster attitudes and behaviors that undermine social solidarity, making it harder for governments to secure public buy-in for strong decarbonization measures. In countries and political systems where trust in institutions and the authority of expertise has been undermined by the legacy of the 2008 financial crisis and the growth of social media, coping with new crises remains an uphill struggle.

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