Health and environmental protections at risk during COVID-19

An artistic illustration of Earth being cupped in two leaves
15 April 2020

Health and environmental standards are at risk of manipulation by governments during the global coronavirus crisis, new research from The Australian National University (ANU) warns. 

In a recently published study, the researchers generated a model to show how governments adjust health, safety, and environmental standards to benefit industry when industry profits are suffering. 

"Our simple model predicts that when industries are hurting, governments will be more likely to manipulate health, safety or environmental standards to benefit those industries," said study co-author Dr Emma Aisbett, who is based at the Energy Change Institute and the School of Regulation and Global Governance at ANU. 

"Using data from World Trade Organisation members, we found evidence of this effect for food-safety and biosecurity standards for industries threatened by trade liberalisation and increased import competition. But this same effect can be expected across a range of industries." 

Dr Aisbett says we are starting to see evidence of the same type of manipulation as a response to decreased demand for oil, gas and coal due to the COVID-19 crisis and associated economic downturn. 

"The Trump administration's roll back of Obama-era clean car rules and the NSW Government's controversial approval of the extension of coalmining under Greater Sydney's drinking water catchment are two clear examples," Dr Aisbett said.  

"They both show how governments will place greater weight on an industry's interests when it is suffering losses," Dr Aisbett said. 

Read the full article on the ANU website, featuring research by Dr Emma Aisbett and Dr Magdalene Silberberger