COVID-19 through the Lens of International Environmental Law

April 10 2020

Imad Antoine Ibrahim

Over the last few days, numerous assumptions and statements have been made concerning the relation between the coronavirus corvid19, and the Earth cleaning itself. Images have been circulating on social media of an earth that is healing as a result of the shutdown of factories and quarantine. Pollution levels around the world have dropped dramatically. In Venice, residents have been taking pictures of unusually clear water. In other places – mainly South East Asia – animals have invaded areas that are normally full of people. All this, while the global population is still in shock and countries struggle to address the increasing demands on healthcare systems, supply chains and government funding. In short, we are entering a new era where notions such as globalization, international law and state sovereignty will have a new meaning once the crisis is over. 

Over the last few decades we have been bombarded with countless books, articles and stories from environmental activists speculating about global events that might wipe out humanity, thereby restoring life for non-human nature and other living beings. Scholars and researchers have been calling to slow population growth globally given our limited amount of natural resources. And every time an environmental catastrophe has occurred in recent years, we have tried to seek solutions through technology, whether that be mechanical or regulatory. We may now have arrived at the moment in which technological innovation cannot no longer mediate relations between humans and non-humans. The question, then, is how to strike a delicate balance between ensuring the sustainability of the planet and the survival and long-term progress of human beings. There is an opportunity to re-examine the place and scope of international environmental laws, particularly as they intersect with sanitary and phytosanitary regulations, international trade laws, and animal welfare laws. At the GRN we look forward to exploring these over the coming months as we wait and watch from quarantine.