Brief gains in air quality, drop in emissions of air pollutants in 2020 over COVID lockdowns: UN

As per the World Meteorological Organisation, the world- particularly the urban areas- has experienced a brief, sharp drop in emissions of the air pollutants in 2020 amid the lockdown measures and the related travel restrictions that were put in the place over COVID-19 pandemic.

Created On: Sep 6, 2021 16:12 IST
Brief improvement in air quality
Brief improvement in air quality

The UN weather agency has said that the world- particularly the urban areas- has experienced a brief, sharp drop in emissions of the air pollutants in 2020 amid the COVID lockdown measures and the related travel restrictions that were put in the place over COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Meteorological Organisation, while releasing its first-ever Air Quality and Climate Bulletin, had cautioned that the reductions in pollution were patchy and that many parts of the world showed levels that have outpaced the air quality guidelines.

The bulletin by the World Meteorological Organisation further added that some types of pollutants have continued to emerge at regular or even high levels.

COVID-19: An unplanned air-quality experiment

The WTO Secretary-General, Petteri Taalas said that Coronavirus proved to be an unplanned air-quality experiment and that it had led to temporary localized improvements.

However, the pandemic is not a substitute for the systematic and sustained action for tackling the major drivers of both climate change and population and so safeguard the health of both the planet and the people.

WMO study shows brief gains in air quality: Key details

•  The study by World Meteorological Organization analyzed the changes in the air quality around the main pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and Ozone.

•  The UN agency based in Geneva noted that there was an unprecedented decrease in pollutant emissions as many governments around the world had closed schools, restricted the gatherings, and imposed lockdowns.

•  WMO also quoted the decline of up to nearly 70% in average levels of nitrogen oxides, which are largely emitted through the burning of fossil fuels and transportation.

•  The agency also noted 40% drops, which is the biggest ones recorded in Southeast Asia, of average levels of tiny particulate matter in the air during the full lockdown measures in 2020, in comparison to the same periods from 2015 to 2019.

•  Nitrogen oxides destroy Ozone in the air and partially as a result of a drop in nitrogen oxides, ozone levels-which differed depending on location- remained flat or were slightly increased in some places.

•  Carbon Monoxide levels also fell in all the regions, particularly Southeast Asia.

COVID lockdowns lead to gains in air quality: Is it really impactful?

The head of the atmospheric environment research division of WMO, Oksana Tarasova said that the impact of measures, such as lockdown on major air pollutants is short-lived.

When measures to reduce mobility mean that there are no cars on the streets, there is an improvement in air quality immediately, and as soon as the cars go back on the street, the worsening is back.

That’s compared to the long-lead greenhouse gases behind global warming such as carbon dioxide, whose atmospheric levels can take up many years to change.

Tarasova further added that the air quality was very complex and that the events such as smoke from biomass burning in the United States and Siberia, wildfires in Australia, and the Godzilla effect- in which the sand and the dust drift from the Sahara desert across the Atlantic to North America- also had an effect on air quality in 2020.

About World Meteorological Organisation:

WMO is a specialized agency of the United Nations which is responsible to promote international cooperation on climatology, atmospheric science, geophysics, and hydrology.

It was originated from the International Meteorological Organisation, a non-governmental organization that was founded in 1873 as a forum to exchange weather data and research.

The World Meteorological Organisation is made of 193 nations. It facilitates the free & unrestricted exchange of data, research, and information between the respective hydrological and meteorological institutions of its members.

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