Pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions caused dramatic but short-lived improvements in air quality and declines in pollution, the UN said Friday, but warned the blip was no substitute for long-term action.
A new report from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) shows that Covid-19 restrictions last year temporarily improved air quality in a number of places, especially in urban areas.
But they also increased some pollutants that were both hazardous to health and had an unclear impact on climate change.
“Covid-19 turned out to be an unplanned air quality experiment,” WMO chief Petteri Taalas said in a statement.
“It did lead to temporary local improvements,” he said.
“But a pandemic is not a substitute for sustained and systematic action to address the root causes of both pollution and climate change to protect the health of both people and the planet.”
Air pollution, especially with small particles, has serious consequences for human health and is associated with millions of deaths every year.
The WMO’s report was based on studies of the behavior of key air pollutants in and around dozens of cities around the world.
The analysis showed decreases of up to 40 percent in small particle concentrations during full lockdown compared to the same periods in 2015-2019.
This generally meant better air quality, although the quality deteriorated again as emissions picked up again after the lockdown.
And the report suggested the situation was more complex.
Even as human-caused emissions declined, extreme weather events resulting from climate change caused “unprecedented sand and dust storms and wildfires that affect air quality,” according to WMO.
And while reducing all kinds of particles in the atmosphere is good for human health, some reductions could actually fuel climate change.
Even as lockdowns reduced emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 that warm the climate, they also hit emissions of particulates that help cool the atmosphere, such as those containing sulfur, said Oksana Tarasova, head of the Atmospheric Environment Research Division at the United Nations. the WMO.
“Tackling particles is extremely complicated,” she told journalists in Geneva.
“We need to reduce cooling and warming at the same time so we have the balance of climate impacts.”
The WMO also noted that as human-caused emissions dropped in many places, there was an increase in ozone levels — which in the stratosphere provide important protection against cancer-causing ultraviolet rays, but are highly dangerous to humans closer to the ground. health.
This was likely due to the fact that a number of pollutants emitted by the transportation industry, such as nitrogen oxides, destroy ozone in the atmosphere, Tarasova explained.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)