Siloization of Climate and Public Health: The Case of Covid-19

By Eduardo Gallo-Cajiao, Nives Dolšak, and Aseem Prakash - 26 May 2020
Siloization of Climate and Public Health: The Case of Covid-19

Transboundary problems have usually been addressed through issue-specific international institutions, but this approach has left gaps where causal pathways exist across problems. Novel solutions are required to overcome such pitfalls.

Since World War two, countries have established international regimes to regulate the cross-border flows of goods, capital, people, and pollutants. While this governance approach targeting specific problems has merit, it causes a “silo” problem, whereby different regimes with overlapping objectives do not collaborate, and sometimes even work at cross purposes. For instance, an analysis of the Health and Environment Interplay Database suggests that only 15% (n=338) of international environmental agreements include provisions for human health.

The coronavirus pandemic reveals the problems of “siloization” of climate change and public health in global governance. Both issues are governed by different regimes, with different international bodies to manage them, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease that is linked to deforestation, wildlife trade, and unregulated wet markets. Forest protection is important for both climate change and public health. From a public health perspective, destruction of forest habitats, which puts humans in close contact with wildlife, can increase zoonotic diseases. From the climate perspective, habitat and forest protection are crucial for carbon sequestration and adaptation.

COVID-19 is a wake-up call to overcome siloization of climate and health regimes. We propose a new multi-stakeholder partnership jointly managed by the UNFCCC and the WHO to protect forests and critical habitats to address both climate change and zoonotic disease outbreaks. Other organizations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, which are involved in forestry issues, could be involved as well.

This inter-regime partnership should actively engage with two sets of non-state actors. First, it should work with global actors such as the Gates Foundation and the Nature Conservancy which have demonstrated competencies in public health and habitat conservation, respectively. Second, this partnership should engage with local communities for habitat protection. Because forest loss is driven by different economic forces at multiple scales, it is crucial to ensure matters of fairness are incorporated to avoid burdens on local communities. Any effort to protect forests as part of synergies between the climate change and global public health agendas needs to provide mechanisms to safeguard local communities from bearing the cost. One option is to leverage the carbon offset markets by paying a “sequestration premium” to local communities to protect forests that have both a high carbon storage capacity and constitute a potential site for the emergence of zoonotic diseases.

The COP-26 scheduled for Glasgow in 2021 could be an opportunity to earmark funding for this novel governance experiment which could also create a template for inter-regime collaboration to strengthen other sustainable development goals.



Eduardo Gallo-Cajiao, MSc, PhD Candidate, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, The University of Queensland.

Nives Dolšak, Professor, School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, University of Washington.

Aseem Prakash, Professor, Center for Environmental Politics, University of Washington.

Image: Burst via Pexels

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