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