How the COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted the natural environment on a global scale

Photo credit

Written by: Michaela Cleary

The emergence of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has generated significant change across many areas of society (1).  Given the highly contagious nature of this disease, this global pandemic has incited an array of drastic policy responses from most countries. It has encouraged most national governments to adopt stringent lockdown conditions and restrict the movement of humans across international and regional borders (2). Consequently, the human population has experienced a noticeable shift in how we are physically able to interact with the natural environment.  In many ways, this has produced positive outcomes for the state of the natural environment. This can be attributed to the number of environmentally detrimental activities that have been brought to a halt.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are widely recognised as the leading cause of climate change. For decades, human activities have largely accelerated the rate and quantity of GHG emissions and therefore the rate of climate change (3). The human population is largely dependent on modes of transportation that are made operational by fossil fuels such as carbon dioxide (CO2). Since travel was largely restricted during the lockdown period, there was a significantly lower frequency of CO2 emissions. The private and public transport network is one of the greatest contributors to global emissions and the policy responses to COVID-19 meant this economic activity was predominantly suspended. On a global scale, air and water pollution was significantly lower in 2020 in comparison to 2019. The lockdown procedures also meant that most natural tourist attractions experienced a noticeably lower frequency of visitors. This reduced pressure on certain attractions and many academics have predicted that this is likely to help with ecological restoration (4). Also, approximately 8% of global GHG emissions can be attributed to the tourism industry (5). Moreover, the standstill of this economic activity has had the potential to promote greater levels of sustainability for popular natural attractions.

Many of the policy responses to COVID-19 also produced a few negative outcomes for the natural environment. Given the highly contagious nature of COVID-19, there has been an extremely high demand for products that can prevent the spread of this disease. Many people have been using disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and face masks, which are predominantly made of plastic materials that contribute to landfills. In general, the world is experiencing a higher quantity of biomedical waste and this poses detrimental consequences for the natural environment since these products can take a significant amount of time to decompose.

Furthermore, the compulsory lockdown conditions meant that many detrimental human activities were brought to a halt. This has created numerous beneficial outcomes for the natural environment. In the future it will be interesting to investigate and observe the long-term impacts of the policy responses to COVID-19. The environmental impacts that have been discussed were the result of lockdown procedures and the general desire to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.  Only time will tell if these are destined to be temporary benefits for our precious natural environment.


  1. Rupani, P. F., Nilashi, M., Abumalloh, R. A., Asadi, S., Samad, S., & Wang, S. (2020). Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) and its natural environmental impacts. International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, 1–12.
  2. Muhammad, S., Long, X., & Salman, M. (2020). COVID-19 pandemic and environmental pollution: A blessing in disguise? Science of the Total Environment. Retrieved from
  3. Nilashi, M., Rupani, P. F., Rupani, M. M., Kamyab, H., Shao, W., Ahmadi, H., Rashid, T. A., & Aljoj. (2019). Measuring sustainability through ecological sustainability and human sustainability: A machine learning approach. Journal of Cleaner Production, 240, 2-9.
  4. Rume, T., & Didar-UI Islam, S. M. (2020). Environmental effects of COVID-19 pandemic and potential strategies of sustainability. Retrieved from
  6. Lenzen, M., Sun, Y., Faturay, F., Ting, Y., Geschke, A., & Malik, A. (2018). The carbon footprint of global tourism. Nature Climate Change, 8, 522-528. Retrieved from