Work on zoonotics helps prevent pandemic risks

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is stepping up its work on mapping zoonotic threats and protecting the environment to reduce the risk of future pandemics. Economies that work with nature are critical to ensure that nations thrive.

UNEP has laid 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, announced a statement.

The organisation’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 modernizing 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 in the statement. “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.”

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.

The 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.

Additionally, a zoonotic risk and response programme will help 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.

The statement continues that another intervention is promoting expanded opportunities for investing in nature and sustainability as part of the response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Lastly, reviewing the implications of moving environmental governance and multilateralism towards virtual, and thus lower environmental footprint, meeting platforms, will play a role.

“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.

Photo credit: Gabi Weinert, flickr/Creative Commons

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