Image Sasin Tipchai

Nature isn’t the problem: it’s how we interact with nature

Human health is intimately interconnected with the health of our planet and how we manage the life-sustaining resources biodiversity and ecosystems provide.

COVID-19 is changing life as we know it.

New scientific evidence suggests that COVID-19 is likely to have originated in an animal host before spilling over to human populations. Like MERS, SARS and approximately two thirds of known human infectious diseases, viruses of “zoonotic” origin can be transferred between animals and humans.  Disease spillover from animals to humans is on the rise worldwide, largely as a result of:

  • our growing ecological footprint;
  • deforestation and other changes to land-use;
  • the way we manage commercial agriculture; and
  • our economic systems and consumer behaviour.

Once transmission from animal to human occurs, some coronaviruses, such as COVID-19, are then transmitted from person to person. Our globalized, increasingly interconnected world renders such viruses more likely to spread faster and farther, increasing their potential to cause pandemics. Continued habitat conversion, livestock intensification, illegal wildlife trade and anthropogenic climate change contribute to an amplification of our risk of disease

Recent zoonoses and their impacts

Recent zoonoses and their impacts
Source: UNEP Frontiers 2016 Report, WHO, World Bank


“The continuing loss of biodiversity on a global scale represents both direct and indirect threats to our health and wellbeing,” CBD Acting Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema says. “Nature – and the diversity of microorganisms, flora and fauna – is the source of medicine and antibiotics,and biodiversity loss limits the discovery of potential treatments for many diseases and health problems.”

Nature is not to blame for the COVID-19 pandemic, but rather our interaction with nature is at the root of many disease outbreaks. Mismanagement of wildlife - and their habitats - contributes to the risk of emerging infectious disease outbreaks. In addition to increasing disease risk, it limits our capacity for biomedical discovery.

Some 25% to 50% of our pharmaceutical products are derived from natural sources. Around the world, billions of people rely on traditional nature-based remedies as a primary health intervention. Also, studies show that contact with nature can boost our immune systems and our mental health to promote feelings of well-being. 

“The better we manage nature, the better we manage human health,” says Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme. “This is why the post-2020 biodiversity framework that countries around the world are expected to agree on this year matters greatly. An important pillar in our post-COVID recovery plan must be to arrive at an ambitious, measurable and inclusive framework, because keeping nature rich, diverse and flourishing is part and parcel of our life’s support system.”

How we interact with nature has an impact on our health, beyond disease emergence. Well functioning ecosystems provide us with the nutritious food, clean air and fresh water we all need. They also sustain other essential processes such as regulating pests, disease and climate.

Read more about COVID 19 and preventing zoonotic disease spread


More information:

Latest Information on UN response

Statement by CBD Acting Executive Secretary for World Health Day 2020

Video Biodiversity + Health

Article COVID-19 is not a silver lining for the climate

Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective

Doses of Neighborhood Nature: The Benefits for Mental Health of Living with Nature