The pandemic poses a test for governance at all levels - and profoundly affects the decisions that leaders have to make and are making.
The profound uncertainty about the virus and its trajectory magnifies the importance of leadership.
In her essay, “Global Governance: Planning for the World After COVID-19,” Ngaire Woods paints a worse-case scenario: the post-COVID-19 world contains political and economic forces that fuel fear and conflict, deepen economic damage, impede the possibilities of growing out of the crisis and exacerbate divisions that the pandemic is already revealing.
A better scenario models itself on the situation post-Second World War. As Woods highlights, leaders then faced similar challenges: fighting a common enemy, accommodating political and geopolitical diversity, and dealing with large-scale economic reconstruction and government debt.
Cooperation will be essential, particularly in the areas of research and knowledge, maintaining global supply and warning of future outbreaks. For cooperation to work, countries need to agree to common rules and empower an institution to oversee them.
Regional cooperation can reap dividends and offers a means to address many of the problems that the world needs to grapple with.
Rolf Alter takes up this theme in his essay, “Regional Governance: An Opportunity for Regional Organizations?” He asks whether, as we leave the initial phase of response in which national governments led, there is space for more regional cooperation in crisis management and recovery.
Alter contends that there is, and uses the example of the EU to tease out the risks and opportunities in pursuing greater regional cooperation. He points out that success depends on the underlying shared values of regional organizations, their institutional structures and capabilities, and the buy-in of a region’s member countries and citizens.
If these are broadly favourable then a key opportunity in the post-COVID-19 world is the propensity to learn from others and to achieve collectively what wouldn't be possible at the individual country level.
Alter contends that in an increasingly bi-polar world, regional cooperation may be the only vehicle for many countries to have a voice in shaping the global rules of the game.
The pandemic has created an opening for cities and their leaders to participate in shaping the global agenda.
Having considered global, regional and national levels, where does this leave sub-national governance?
This is the question that Robert Muggah answers in his essay, “Urban Governance: Cities in a Time of COVID-19”. Muggah argues that emergencies reveal the health of the social contract. In a crisis, competence matters, and this is where many local authorities and leaders have stolen a march on their national counterparts.
During the pandemic, Muggah argues, governors and mayors often displayed more credible leadership than their national-level counterparts.
Cities are primary “spreaders” of the infection, but also key to containing it, and they will lead recovery and redesign into the “new normal”. This has created an opening for international coalitions of city leaders to claim a seat at the decision-making table.
There are signs of strengthening social cohesion as cooperation and solidarity increases within and between cities worldwide. As Muggah suggests, the cities that pivot to resilience, focus on their most vulnerable and adopt a zero-tolerance for inequality will survive and thrive in the 21st century.