Skip to main content

Impact of coronavirus on the environment to be explored by MPs

21 May 2020

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) will be undertaking an exploratory hearing on the environmental implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could inform a future inquiry.

Chair's comments

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Philip Dunne, said:

“The global shutdown has seen dramatic temporary drops in climate-changing emissions and harmful air pollution, but what will the long-term implications of the pandemic be for the health of our planet?  In this hearing we will be looking at the link between the pandemic and biodiversity loss, the UK’s food security and the connection between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality rates.”

“Out of this ghastly pandemic there may be opportunities to build back a greener, more resilient, climate-friendly economy. We will be examining how stimulus spending could both boost economic recovery and help us transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Background

The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent global shutdown have been linked to a range of environmental issues – from the outbreak being associated with environmental degradation and the wildlife trade, to the shutdown impacting air quality and climate change. While the precise source of the outbreak is yet to be determined, it has been suggested that it emerged in bats and made its way to humans via another wild animal host.

Approximately two thirds of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic - they jump from animals to humans - and a majority of these have a wildlife origin such as other recent virus outbreaks: Ebola, SARs and Zika virus. New diseases often emerge as a result of humans disrupting ecological systems either intentionally through development, or environmental change through a warming climate. This could result in humans and animals being bought into closer proximity making transmission between species easier. There are concerns that if environmental change continues at its current rate, the resulting impact on human health could become even more severe.

In efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus, countries have implemented shutdowns, limiting movement of people and closing parts of their economies. Due to the measures that have been taken, analysts predict that 2020 will see the largest single year reduction in global CO2 on record, but this will still make very little overall difference to climate change.

In this session the Committee will explore ideas the Government could implement to prioritise economic recovery measures which meet environmental objectives on the path to Net Zero Britain. It shall hear from two panels of witnesses, expert in various aspects on these themes:

Witnesses

Thursday 21 May

From 14:30

  • Professor Kate Jones, Chair of Ecology and Biodiversity at University College London
  • Professor Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, Centre for Food Policy, School of Health Sciences, City, University of London
  • Professor Frank Kelly, Head of Department of Analytical, Environmental and Forensic Sciences, Kings College London

From 15:30

  • Christiana Figueres, Former Executive Secretary of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2010-2016
  • Professor Cameron Hepburn, Director of the Economic of Sustainability Programme at the Oxford Martin School; Professor of Environmental Economics at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment; and Professorial Research Fellow at the Grantham Research Institute at LSE
  • Mr Steve Waygood, Chief Responsible Investment Officer, Aviva 

Further information

Image: Parliamentary copyright