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Environmental sustainability post-covid-19 : Scrutinizing popular hypotheses from a social science perspective

Affiliation
Department of Economics, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research–UFZ, Leipzig, Germany
Lehmann, Paul;
Affiliation
Department of Economics, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research–UFZ, Leipzig, Germany
Beck, Silke;
Affiliation
Department of Economics, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research–UFZ, Leipzig, Germany
de Brito, Mariana Madruga;
Affiliation
Department of Economics, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research–UFZ, Leipzig, Germany
Gawel, Erik;
Affiliation
Department of Economics, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research–UFZ, Leipzig, Germany
Groß, Matthias;
Affiliation
Department of Economics, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research–UFZ, Leipzig, Germany
Haase, Annegret;
Affiliation
Department of Economics, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research–UFZ, Leipzig, Germany
Lepenies, Robert;
Affiliation
Department of Economics, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research–UFZ, Leipzig, Germany
Otto, Danny;
Affiliation
Department of Economics, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research–UFZ, Leipzig, Germany
Schiller, Johannes;
Affiliation
Department of Economics, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research–UFZ, Leipzig, Germany
Strunz, Sebastian;
Affiliation
Faculty of Economics and Management Science, University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany
Thrän, Daniela

There is an increasingly vocal debate on potential long-term changes in environmental sustainability spurred by the global COVID-19 pandemic. This article scrutinizes the social science basis of selected popular hypotheses regarding the nexus between the COVID-19 pandemic and the societal transitions towards environmental sustainability. It presents results that were derived through an interdisciplinary dialogue among social scientists. First, it is confirmed that the COVID-19 crisis has likely created a potential window of opportunity for societal change. Yet, to ensure that societal change is enduring and actually supporting the transition towards environmental sustainability, a clear and well-targeted political framework guiding private investments and behavior is required. Second, it is emphasized that there are important structural differences between the COVID-19 crisis and environmental crises, like time scales. Consequently, many strategies used to address the COVID-19 crisis are hardly suitable for long-term transitions towards environmental sustainability. Third, it is argued that transitions towards environmental sustainability—building both on reducing environmental degradation and building socio-techno-ecological resilience—may create co-benefits in terms of preventing and coping with potential future pandemics. However, research still needs to explore how big these synergies are (and whether trade-offs are also possible), and what type of governance framework they require to materialize.

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