COVID-19 is having some unexpected effects on the planet: air pollution levels are falling as more people around the world stay cloistered at home. Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by more than a third since the Industrial Revolution began, so that anthropogenic actions are the most important long-lived forces of climate change. Studies have long indicated that emission reduction can reduce these effects. Enter COVID-19.
Data that Explains How Air Pollution Levels are Falling
Here are some interesting stats that point to at least short-term easing of carbon levels in the atmosphere.
A dramatic decline in pollution levels over China have been reduced, at least in part, due to an economic slowdown prompted by the coronavirus. The data, released by NASA, and reported by the BBC, states that reduction in levels of nitrogen dioxide – a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles and industrial facilities – was first apparent near the source of the outbreak in Wuhan city but then spread across the country. NASA compared the first two months of 2019 with the same period in 2020. “This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” said Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Air pollution in some of Europe’s major cities has taken lessened significantly dramatically since governments ordered citizens to stay home to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to Bloomberg Green. A significant decline in the concentrations of nitrogen dioxide have occurred over Rome, Madrid, and Paris, and these were the first cities in Europe to implement strict quarantine measures. Scientists are using a 10-day average to reliable results. Northwestern European countries adopted confinement measures later than their southern neighbors, so upcoming pollution measurements will soon help to assess those countries’ changes.
As industries, transport networks, and businesses have closed down,the shift in commercial activity has brought a sudden drop in carbon emissions. Compared with this time last year, levels of pollution in New York have reduced by nearly 50% because of measures to contain the virus, according to the BBC. With global economic activity in free fall as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, emissions of a variety of gases related to energy and transport have been considerably reduced. Indeed, if the trend continues, by May, 2020, levels recorded might be the lowest since the financial crisis over a decade ago.
However, many scientists are warning that these optimistic numbers do not and should not mask the emergency of the climate crisis.
Air Pollution Levels are Falling, but Don’t Think for a Minute that the Climate Crisis is behind Us
On April 1, 2020, the British government announced that the planned COP26 global climate summit, due to take place in Glasgow in November, will be postponed due to COVID-19 crisis. The rescheduled date has yet to be released. The announcement was accompanied by a warning from Patricia Espinosa, the United Nations’ executive secretary for climate change. “COVID-19 is the most urgent threat facing humanity today, but we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term,” she reminded.
The postponement of COP26 will delay further negotiations and international agreements about emissions reductions, as countries this year have to submit their 2050 plans to the UN, stating what they plan to do to align with the Paris Agreement in both the short- and long-term.
So, too, will the economic recession hurt long-term climate crisis action. The ability for many countries to afford an energy transition will be limited, as will the impacts on sustainable development and the the likely over-compensation of economic activity when the crisis lifts and normal life resumes.
The Harvard School of Public Health argues that the separation of health and environmental policy like this “is a dangerous delusion.” Humans entirely depend on the climate and the other organisms with whom humans share the planet. We need to address, they say:
- the risk of pathogen spillover from animals into people
- to view the environment and human life on earth as integral
- do far more to safeguard the diversity of life on earth, “which is being lost at a rate not seen since the dinosaurs—and more than half of life on earth—went extinct 65 million years ago.”
The global pandemic that surrounds us has underscored the importance of preventative action, which is also vital to addressing climate change. Anthropogenic climate changes are associated with climate change and human health risks, so utilizing cleaner energies like solar and wind power can further reduce carbon emissions and use of fossil fuels and work towards mitigating impending impacts of climate change.
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