Global governance of health and nature in the wake of COVID-19. Attentive to the role of China and to poverty perspectives.

FNI Report 1/2021. Lysaker, FNI, 2021, 28 p.

With the coronavirus pandemic the links between biodiversity loss and human well-being have gained increased attention at global health and environmental governance arenas. Our aim in this report is to broadly examine how relationships between i) loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, ii) zoonotic health aspects, and iii) poverty alleviation is perceived and dealt with in various global debates and forums. We include a case study of relevant emerging legislation and policies in China, as a central actor in global health and biodiversity governance.

Drawing together the policy responses from global health and environment governance, we examine suggestions for regulating natural habitat protection, international trade in wildlife, informal markets, bushmeat, zoonoses, and the ‘One Health approach’. A central recommendation is for a stronger role for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), as the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity are important for reducing the emergence of new zoonoses; they are also crucial for the development of new vaccines and medicines to com­bat and treat diseases. The CBD and its Nagoya Protocol have a further role to play also in promoting fair and equitable vaccine distribution. Further, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)’ effective institutional design and enforceability makes it well adapted for expanding its original mandate of regulating wildlife trade to include animals carrying serious diseases.

Improved biodiversity policies may contribute positively to reduce poverty in developing countries where populations are most directly vulnerable to loss of biodiversity’s ecosystem services. The ‘One Health approach’ and the ‘Build back better approach’ pay less attention to poverty issues than to health and environ­mental aspects. On a similar note, UNEP and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warn against potentially negative poverty effects of policy measures aimed at fighting epidemics, such as the culling of livestock, the widespread use of insecticides, and travel restrictions.

China’s recently introduced policies and regulations on wildlife management and consumption have the potential to stem the illegal trade in wild animals and recent regulations reflect the country’s growing commitment to protecting wildlife. However, there is a need for better enforcement and greater public awareness to reduce the demand for wildlife products.

Finally, the report points to the untapped potential in academic empirical research on global health governance and implementation of related policies. The role of the social sciences in understanding the policy pro­cesses involved in achieving health objectives, in contributing to improved global health gover­nance, and to effective and equitable implementation is largely overlooked.