The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is stepping up its work on mapping zoonotic threat and protecting the environment to reduce the risk of future pandemics, such as the COVID-19 crisis currently sweeping the globe.
In “Working With the Environment to Protect People” released on Tuesday, May 12, 2020, UNEP lays out how it is adjusting its work in response to COVID-19 through supporting nations and partners to “build back better” – through stronger science, policies that back a healthier planet and more green investments.
UNEP’s response covers four areas: helping nations manage COVID-19 waste, delivering a transformational change for nature and people, working to ensure economic recovery packages create resilience to future crises, and modernising global environmental governance.
“In COVID-19, the planet has delivered its strongest warning to date that humanity must change,” said UNEP Executive Director, Inger Andersen.
“Shutting down economies is a short-term response to this warning. It cannot endure. Economies that work with nature are critical to ensure that the world’s nations thrive,” she added.
To support nations in their efforts to address the socio-economic and environmental impacts of COVID-19, UNEP will coordinate its work with the rest of the UN system. Examples of interventions include:
- Supporting decision makers to deal with the spike in hazardous waste – such as personal protective equipment, electronics and pharmaceuticals – in a way that does not further damage human health or the environment.
- A zoonotic risk and response programme to improve countries’ ability to reduce threats through nature-positive approaches – including a new global mapping of risks from the unregulated wildlife trade, habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss.
- Promoting expanded opportunities for investing in nature and sustainability as part of the response to the COVID-19 crisis – including through existing funds UNEP manages and economic stimulus packages that countries are planning.
- Reaching real economy actors to rebuild, scale up and accelerate sustainable consumption and production, and create new green job – including reaching businesses through partnerships with UN agencies, finance, government and private sector institutions, and revitalizing markets and supply chains for green and sustainable products.
- Reviewing the implications of moving environmental governance and multilateralism towards virtual, and thus lower environmental footprint, meeting platforms.
“The idea that a thriving natural world is essential to human health, societies and economies has always been central to UNEP’s work,” said Andersen.
“But now UNEP must provide even more support to countries as they reduce the risks of future pandemics by restoring lost ecosystems and biodiversity, fighting climate change and reducing pollution.”