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COVID-19 – Dress Rehearsal for Climate Change? | Op-Ed

French Philosopher Bruno Latour asked in a March 26th blog post whether the COVID-19 Corona Virus was a “dress rehearsal for climate change.”

As governments adapt to this virus, we gain insight into states’ capacity for mobilization, the social and political capital risks of select policy, and state-level attempts to capitalize on uncertainty.

In short: COVID-19 presents a unique insight into potential state responses to uncertainty and existential threats. Some trends we are seeing:

  • Authoritarian capitalization on uncertainty,
  • Marginalization of vulnerable communities,
  • Isolationism and tension with international institutions, and
  • Tension between public health and economic concerns.

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Let’s look around the world

In Viktor Orban’s Hungary, we see:

  • The governing party, Fidesz’s “Coronavirus Bill” led the Washington Post to announce Hungary’s the first democracy to die from COVID-19, 
  • The ‘Coronavirus Bill’ concentrates power within the governing party, without any clear expiration date,
  • Leading many international commentators to express concern.

In Donald Trump’s United States of America, we have seen:

In Xi Jinping’s People’s Republic of China, we have seen:

  • Tension between international institutions and territorial land claims, 
  • Allegations and denials of a cover-up, and 
  • Strained policy attempting to balance economic growth and public health.

In summary: It should come as no surprise that climate policy will not be pursued without self-interest influencing the shape and nature of the policy. 

It is unlikely anyone expected otherwise, nonetheless, policy-makers and the voting public should continue to monitor this situation to ensure the solutions presented for the climate crisis – which is on the ever-more polluted horizon – are the right ones. 

Update:

April 23, 2020:

China has announced increased administrative controls over “disputed regions” in the South China Sea. Certain commentators have speculated this intends to “solidify and strengthen” while other actors are pre-occupied with COVID, despite “a 2016 ruling … at the Hague stat[ing] that many of China’s claims in the disputed waters have no basis in international law.”