A global convention to stand together against pandemics
By Michel Prieur and Mohamed Ali Mekouar (President and Vice-President of the International Centre for Comparative Environmental Law / Members of IUCN WCEL)
The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 5.7 million people worldwide. As its devastating impacts continue to unfold, economic recovery is marking time, extreme poverty is rising, the labour market is being damaged, essential health services have been interrupted, natural resources are being depleted, access to energy, water and sanitation is hampered, plastic pollution is proliferating, and biodiversity is declining. With the combined effects of heightened climate change, agri-food systems are further disrupted, exacerbating malnutrition globally. Thus, the UN-set 2030 horizon for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals risks slipping away inexorably, like an elusive mirage.
The International Centre for Comparative Environmental Law (CIDCE), as an international NGO specializing in environmental law and endowed with special consultative status with the United Nations, has a natural vocation to protect human and animal health in times of pandemic. Hence, in August 2021, CIDCE set up a team of legal experts to develop a drat convention on pandemics, in partnership with the Normandy Chair for Peace and the Global Pandemic Network. The drafting process was completed in late November and the draft convention was published in early December 2021 on the CIDCE website, in English, French and Spanish, with a rationale in favour of its adoption.
The complex interconnection that exists between living species is a root cause of zoonoses, the occurrence of which is linked to the close interdependence between human health, animal health and environmental quality. Therefore, the multisectoral “One Health” approach, advocated in Resolution 135 of the 2021 IUCN Congress, is at the heart of the draft convention. Stemming from a “planetary health” vision, it intimately integrates the well-being of humanity and the preservation of other forms of life.
Regarding pandemic preparedness, the draft convention urges States to put in place coordinated national strategies involving health, veterinary and environmental authorities; to develop scientific research on zoonotic risks; to have the necessary specialized medical and health personnel and the infrastructure needed; to strengthen epidemiological surveillance through early detection and warning systems.
To respond to pandemics, States are required to alert the population when a pandemic outbreak is detected and protect them effectively by means of an emergency plan, while transparently notifying potentially affected States. Vaccine equity is enshrined, recognizing that large-scale vaccination and universal access to vaccines are a global public good. The same goes for medicines, means of screening and medical equipment, the availability of which must be universal.
Strengthening of scientific and technical cooperation on pandemics is an essential part of the draft convention, which aims to promote the transfer of technologies and skills. In view of this, an Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Pandemics is to be set up to collect and assess relevant data on the origins, prevention and management of pandemics and to provide scientific, technical, socioeconomic and legal advice.
To facilitate effective implementation of the convention, increased coordination of actions carried out by the international agencies concerned with pandemics is crucial between the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Organization for Animal Health, the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Trade Organization and the World Bank.
The draft convention drawn up by CIDCE is intended to support a related WHO initiative. At a special session held in December 2021, the World Health Assembly established an intergovernmental body mandated to draft and negotiate a convention or other international instrument on pandemics. CIDCE’s proposed convention is aimed to serve as a tool for reference and inspiration for State and non-State actors involved in the diplomatic process leading to the conclusion, hopefully promptly, of a convention on pandemics
Being a global threat, a pandemic calls for global solidarity and a global solution through a global convention. The well-being of humankind and the viability of the planet are at stake.