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Column Andrej Zwitter: Post-COVID-19 World

17 July 2020
Andrej Zwitter
Andrej Zwitter

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is yet to be seen. The effect of the virus that has affected all countries is still uncertain. But one thing is already clear: the crisis will have a lasting impact on global politics. In political science we usually define different eras of global affairs in time periods marked by major events:

  • 1918-1938 – interwar period
  • 1947 – Cold War period
  • 1991 – Post-Cold War period
  • 2001 – Post 9/11 period

After 2020 we will be living in a Post-COVID-19 world, whose effects will accompany us for many years to come and will determine world politics. This also means that the global challenges we are facing might be accelerated or modified. The concrete effects that are already visible can be categorized into three domains: (1) Geopolitics, (2) Economics, and (3) Society.

Geopolitically, we will be facing major shifts. China, having first faced the consequences of the virus outbreak, and having tackled it quite suc- cessfully, is taking the lead economically. At the same time Europe and the United States have to look inwards and decide how to best mitigate the consequences of the pandemic. This will give China a head-start, and shift the geopolitical power balance in its favor. We have yet to see the impact of the pandemic on Africa, but if predictions hold true, we can expect the continent to face massive problems when it comes to maintaining political stability and functioning economies.

Economically, COVID-19 will lead to greater problems for countries with a large informal sector. According to a UN study, “In Africa, 85.8 per cent of employment is informal. The proportion is 68.2 per cent in Asia and the Pacific, 68.6 per cent in the Arab States, 40 per cent in the Americas, and just over 25 per cent in Europe and Central Asia.” These regions will be hit the hardest by the crisis. On the other hand, we are currently seeing positive effects on CO2 emissions induced by reduced mobility. Experts argue that these benefits might be short lived. In order to regain financial stability, countries might try to increase their CO2 output. In summary, the next global financial crisis and accompanying effects on the climate and world peace might be severe.

In addition, societally, we are currently witnessing how technology companies can offer data-driven solutions to combat the spread of the virus. These technological advancements might, however, engender long-term consequences for data protection. Finally, if social distancing norms remain in place, there will be permanent cultural effects on how we interact. We have seen how globalisation and digital anonymity has already in part led to a reduction in empathy for others. What will be the empathic consequences of social distancing?

Living in a Post-COVID-19 world will be very different to what we are used to. Global challenges will change. For us, this is a call to reevaluate our priorities and approaches with regards to the global challenges we aim to tackle. Everyone will be required to help solve these future problems.

This article originally appeared in Connect summer 2020.

Prof. dr. Andrej Zwitter is dean of Campus Fryslân and Prof. of Governance and Innovation.

Last modified:23 July 2020 1.41 p.m.
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