Then and now: Pandemic clears the air

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In our monthly feature, Then and Now, we reveal some of the ways that planet Earth has been changing against the backdrop of a warming world. Air pollution has long been one of the biggest killers, claiming an estimated seven million victims annually. However, the Covid-19 global pandemic showed how quality we could clear the air once we cut the number of journeys we made…

Air quality at India Gate in Delhi

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Clean air at India Gate in Dehli April 2020 Air quality at India Gate in Delhi in smog, October 2019

Images: Reuters

Air pollution has long been one of the most damaging forms of environmental damage.

Figures from the UN World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year.

It also say data shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits containing high levels of pollutants.

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Stark difference

Emissions from fuel combustion account for almost a quarter of CO2 emissions from human activities.

So the impact of lockdowns around the globe in the Covid-19 pandemic on transport was stark.

According to the International Energy Agency, the global average activity on our roads fell by almost 50% compared with 2019.

The results on air quality could be seen with the naked eye.

In a short space of time, urban areas were recording massive reductions in a range of pollutants associated with internal combustion engines.

Data collected by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science shows marked reductions in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and in particulate matter (PM2.5) across 10 UK cities.

PM2.5

In india, people had taken to social media to post images of clear skies after an estimated of 90% road journeys were stopped during the lockdown.

Speaking in April, Sunil Dahiya from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air told BBC News: The current crisis has shown us that clear skies and breathable air can be achieved very fast if concrete action is taken to reduce burning of fossil fuels."

However, as quickly as the air quality improved as lockdowns were observed, it appeared as if things returned back to normal just as quickly once the lockdowns were eased or lifted.

Little impact on CO2

The World Meterological Organization (WMO) said the global response to the Covid-19 crisis has had little impact on the continued rise in atmospheric concentrations of CO2.

Although this year carbon emissions have fallen dramatically as a result of lockdowns cutting transport and industry levels severely.

Data from the WMO showed that it had only marginally slowed the overall rise in concentrations.

The details were

During the lockdowns, there were widespread calls for the environmental benefits to be maintained.

Proponents said it was essential that economic growth after the pandemic focused on following a low emission, sustainable path.

Despite the calls to build back greener, it seemed as if the priority was business-as-normal, regardless of the cost.

Our Planet Then and Now will continue each month up to the UN climate summit in Glasgow, which is scheduled to start in November 2021

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