Environment and COVID-19: What are experts concerned about?

  • Over 1,100 experts have shared with us their concerns about COVID-19 and COVID-impacted areas in the immediate and longer term future.
  • This report outlines environment concerns.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions seem to be falling during the outbreak. While experts note an opportunity to continue this reduction through policy-making, experts are concerned that the need to reinvigorate the economy will override environmental considerations.
  • Access to green space has been important in supporting people’s well-being. Experts note that access to green space is limited in some urban areas. They have similar concerns for the equality of access to active travel such as cycling.
  • You can find all our horizon scanning work on COVID-19 here.

Our survey of over 1,100 experts asked them what their most important concerns were in the short (next 3 months), medium (next 3 to 9 months) and long-term (beyond the next 9 months) relating to the COVID-19 outbreak. Their responses were analysed and synthesised. This synthesis comes from survey responses submitted between 3 and 30 April. Experts raised 51 concerns relating to the environment. Below are the areas of concerns that experts have relating to this area.

Sustainable recovery

Experts express 40 concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the climate in the short, medium and long-term. They note that in the short-term, there has been a reduction in emissions and air pollution. They suggest that there is an opportunity to continue this reduction through policy-making in the medium and long-term. Other experts are concerned that the need to reinvigorate the economy will override environmental considerations. They worry that the Government could put aside climate targets (such as reductions in carbon emissions) to encourage manufacturing and industry, with the aim of stimulating the economy. They suggest that this could result in the UK falling behind on its targets. However, some experts suggest that the radical and quick change that has happened to prevent the spread of COVID-19 could be applied to climate targets. They suggest that if the climate crisis received the same reaction as the COVID-19 outbreak, the UK could achieve its climate targets earlier than expected. They suggest that the Government could use the COVID-19 outbreak to rethink how society and the economy are structured. For example, they suggest that reductions in the use of certain forms of transport (such as cars or aeroplanes) could be maintained if other transport infrastructure is supported. Some experts suggest that the UK could also be more sustainable in its food supply and energy production in the long-term by importing less from abroad. They note that supply chains are likely to be interrupted for some time and that this creates the opportunity for the UK to think more sustainably.

Example of a typical long-term concern in this area: We can notice a big environmental impact of the current crisis, with level of pollution decreasing – how governments are going to support alternative strategies when restoring their economies?

Urban environment

There are 11 concerns relating to the urban environment in the medium and long-term. Experts note that during the COVID-19 outbreak, access to green space has been important in supporting people’s well-being. They are concerned that access to green space is limited in some urban areas, with disadvantaged groups having the least access. Experts also note that some areas have less access to active travel infrastructure, such as cycle paths and footpaths. Experts want to know how green spaces and active travel infrastructure will be incorporated into these areas in the long-term to ensure that they are available in case of future crises.

Example of a typical short-term concern in this area: How can we ensure all residents have safe access to the health and well-being benefits of urban green space?


You can read the methodology of this work here. All researchers who contributed to this survey are listed under Acknowledgements.

You can find rapid response content from POST on COVID-19 here.

You can find more content on COVID-19 from the Commons and Lords Libraries here.