Last updated: 21 Jul 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis that affects everyone. Various articles have been published in the past weeks on the environmental causes and the environmental impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This page aims at listing relevant information, research, data and/or press releases issued by our partners in Geneva and other institutions around the world.

All United to End the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis that affects everyone.

As mentioned by the UN Secretary General in his call for solidarity, “We are facing a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations — one that is spreading human suffering, infecting the global economy and upending people’s lives.” He also added “We must ensure that lessons are learned and that this crisis provides a watershed moment for health emergency preparedness and for investment in critical 21st century public services and the effective delivery of global public goods. We have a framework for action – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. We must keep our promises for people and planet.”

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COVID-19 and the Environment

Various articles have been published in the past weeks on the environmental causes and the environmental impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This page aims at listing relevant information, research, data and/or press releases issued by our partners in Geneva and other institutions around the world.

Other resource pages on COVID-19 and the environment:

International Environmental Negotiations

2020 was expected to be ‘Super Year for Nature,’ with a number of major international meetings and negotiations on environmental issues. Given the continued uncertainties arising from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including those related to restrictions on travel and the convening of large physical gatherings, many environmental negotiations have been postponed.

This section provides information on the progress and challenges of environmental negotiations since the beginning of the pandemic, as well as emerging opportunities. For practical information on the schedule and format of upcoming negotiations, you may visit our dedicated update page.

Origins of COVID-19

While the origin of the outbreak and its transmission pathway are yet to be asserted, we know diseases passed from animals to humans (zoonotic diseases) are on the rise, as the world continues to see unprecedented destruction of wild habitats by human activity. “Nature is sending us a message with the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis” according to the UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen and other environmental experts.This section provides resources to understand the origins of the pandemics.

According to an IPBES report released in October 2020, future pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, do more damage to the world economy and kill more people than COVID-19 unless there is a transformative change in the global approach to dealing with infectious diseases. The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment. Changes in the way we use land; the expansion and intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade, production and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people.

Prevention of Future Pandemics

As the world experiences the dire consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak, discussions on how to prevent future outbreaks of zoonotic diseases have gained more attention. According to the IPBES Pandemics report, escaping the era of pandemics is possible, but that this will require a seismic shift in approach from reaction to prevention. Although COVID-19 has its origins in microbes carried by animals, like all pandemics, its emergence has been entirely driven by human activities.

This section gives an overview of some of the necessary steps, existing initiatives and propositions to prevent future outbreaks. Our update on One Health provides specific resources on the application of the One Health approach – combining human, animal and environmental health – to address zoonoses.

Chemicals and Waste Management

In this section: Waste Management | Plastic and Reusable Items | Exposure to Hazardous Substances

Waste Management

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to spread, national and local governments are urged to treat waste management, including medical, household and other hazardous waste, as an urgent and essential public service in order to minimise possible secondary impacts upon health and the environment.

Plastic and Reusable Items

The fight against plastic pollution is being hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the use of disposable masks, gloves and other protective equipment soars. Plastic does not inherently make something clean and safe. Experts are proposing to bring back the bring-your-own-cup scheme. UN agencies and partners insist that, if effective measures are put into place, the amount of plastics discarded every year can be significantly cut, or even eliminated.

Exposure to Hazardous Substances

Hosing down migrants and workers with bleach to ‘disinfect’ them is a ghastly and inhumane practice to combat COVID-19, said UN Special Rapporteur on toxic waste. The Special Rapporteur appealed to States and businesses on the dire need to protect the brave doctors, nurses, first responders, and others on the front lines in this fight.

Biodiversity and Wildlife

In this section: Impact on wildlife | Biodiversity Crisis

Impact on Wildlife and Conservation

COVID-19 is having an impact on animals. Great apes, of which seven species are already threatened by extinction, are potentially vulnerable to this new virus. Lockdowns and the loss of tourism revenue also create challenges for protecting wildlife. The cost of COVID-19 to zoos could mean extinction for the 77 species of plants and animals (at least) that are extinct in the wild and exist only in zoological and botanical collections.

The Biodiversity Crisis

2020 was expected to be ‘Super Year for Nature,’ with a number of international meetings and negotiations (World Conservation Congress, UN Ocean Conference, UN Nature Summit and other preparatory meetings) leading to a global biodiversity conference that would agree on a decade-long ‘Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework’, and the acknowledgment of nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation and additional benefits. Their postponement brings worries as we are loosing critical time to address the biodiversity crisis.

Air Pollution

In this section: Impact of COVID-related measures on air pollution | Influence of air quality on the pandemic

Impact of COVID-related measures on air pollution

Researchers found that air pollution has intensified the pandemic. But the lockdown and related measures implemented by countries to stop the spread of COVID-19 have also led to a decrease in economic activities and drop in road transport, temporarly cleaning skies and decreasing levels of certain air pollutants.

Influence of air quality on the pandemic

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, many researchers have investigated the possible links between air quality, virus transmission and death rates. The findings suggest that air pollution aggravates the consequences of COVID-19. The resources below provide more information in this field.

Climate Action

While COVID-19 is the most urgent threat facing humanity today, but we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term. Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere and oceans for centuries. Therefore, the world is facing continued climate change regardless of any temporary fall in emissions due to the COVID-19 related measures in lockdown. Meanwhile, the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 set to take place in Glasgow in November 2020 was rescheduled to 2021. This section provides relevant information about climate action during and beyond the pandemic.

Green Recovery / Greening Economies

Leaders and experts around the world are calling for a profound, systemic shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet. As governments are investing in stimulus package

Sustainable Finance

Signatories to the Principles for Responsible Banking show the positive role they can play by employing a wide range of measures to respond both to the direct health crises and to the wider economic impacts.

Push back on Environmental Laws

While lobby associations rightly point to the significant challenges posed by an unprecedented global health crisis, some have explicitly call for postponement of environmental laws or loosening regulations that limit emissions from their facilities. In countries facing pressures on indigenous territories, the lockdowns are reducing the abilities of local communities to patrol.

Water and Sanitation

The spread of COVID-19 is closely related to water and sanitation, as cleaning hands can reduce the transmission and help people stay healthy. But today billions of people still lack safe water, sanitation and handwashing and funding is inadequate.

Oceans and Blue Economy

The global lockdown measures have led to a decrease in fishing, tourism and maritime transport activities. For some, this can be seen as an opportunity to ensure a sustainable development of these industries while recovering.

More on COVID-19 and the Environment

Environmental leaders, experts and institutions around the world have been issuing statements and other useful information.