The remarkable reduction in human activity as a consequence of the coronavirus outbreak has shown dramatic improvements in air quality and lower emissions around the world and especially in regions of China and Italy. Experts and scientists have been presented an interesting opportunity to uncover what happens to the air quality, and pollution in general, when human induced emissions are forcibly halted.
“When the industrial activities, economic activities stop, it’s expected that you get a reduction in pollution and emissions of gases. It’s just that when you see the images, it’s quite striking. It becomes more real and you see the amount of reduction which is quite amazing and the fact that it happens quite quickly,” Alberto Troccoli, managing director of World Energy & Meteorology Council (WEMC) at the School of Environmental Studies at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, told New Europe by telephone on March 20 from Brisbane, the capital of the Australian state of Queensland.
He said the first similar experiment was after the tragic events of September 11 when air traffic ground to a halt for several days. The fact that a virus is causing a larger, more extreme reaction is unheard of. “We’re going to live through this period for a longer time,” he said, adding that many people have to work from home and starting to do things with teleconferences. “I have been using teleconferences for years but if many, many more people start to use it, you will find obviously that pollution due to travel will go down and it may even remain if people get used to this type of activity,” Troccoli said.
Europe Beyond Coal Managing Director Mahi Sideridou told New Europe by telephone on March 20 from Denmark’s second largest city Aarhus that graphs and NASA images show that air pollution has dramatically fallen in previous pollution hotspots in China because of the slowdown of industrial activity and less coal being burnt. “It’s the same in Italy if you look at the graphs of how pollution is being curved right now because of the response to the coronavirus,” she said.
Troccoli said another thing that could happen is people are realising they can get more local products. “It is forcing people to think outside box. That’s why I think it (pollution and emissions) may go back to the previous level but not beyond,” Troccoli said, citing, for example, a printer, who is now making air masks.
He said the coronavirus crisis and reduction in traffic led to an immediate reduction of pollutants, like Nitrogen dioxide (N02) and others. The same thing happened with carbon dioxide (CO2) when most of the factories were shut down. “The problem with C02 is that actually stays in the earth’s system for a very long time so what we omitted in terms of emissions over the past decades won’t go away because we stopped for two or three months,” Troccoli said. “But in terms of pollutants that’s something that is immediate and it’s actually ironic that will less pollutants you can actually fare better in the fight against the virus because you can breathe better air,” he added.
He said the China is fully aware it has a problem with air quality that’s why they have invested a huge amount of money in renewables. “You saw the steep increase in solar power and steep increase in offshore wind and before that onshore wind. They are fully aware of that, but they still need a lot of power and they still are running coal power stations and they’re not stopping anytime see as far as I can see,” Troccoli said.
“Another kind of coincidence that came with this virus, it’s quite astonishing in a way it went from one industrial region in China with a lot of pollution, to another industrial region in Italy. Particularly the Padana plain where the Po River runs in the north of Italy, this triangular region there from Venice to Milan normally has got the highest pollution in Europe not just because of the emissions but the meteorological conditions there. It does not have much air circulation,” Troccoli said, adding that the drop of pollutants and emissions was dramatic because they started from a high level.
Sideridou expressed the hope that the world overcomes the coronavirus crisis very quickly and people can go back to the lives that they knew before. But the Europe Beyond Coal Managing Director added, “I hope that when that happens, we will remember that we need to make sure that we respect our climate commitments, we need to diminish pollution as much as possible.”
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