AIR QUALITY IMPROVEMENT
Why in News?
Air quality is improving in countries under COVID-19 quarantines. There is a striking reduction in concentration of NO2 reported in China, Italy and Spain. Emissions of the planet-heating gas CO2 have also fallen sharply.
Air pollution occurs when harmful or excessive quantities of substances are introduced into Earth’s atmosphere. It is a mixture of solid particles and gases in the air. Car emissions, chemicals from factories, dust etc. may be suspended as particles. Ozone is a major part of air pollution in cities. When ozone forms air pollution, it’s also called smog.
COVID-19 and Air Pollution
The coronavirus pandemic is shutting down countries across the world, causing a significant decline in air pollution in major cities as countries implement stricter quarantines and travel restrictions. Reported data shows a significant reduction of ground-based concentrations of fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, a harmful pollutant.
The World Health Organisation describes NO2 as a toxic gas which causes significant inflammation of the airways at concentrations above 200 micrograms per cubic metre. Pollution particles may also be a vector for pathogens as well as exacerbating existing health problems. The WHO is now investigating whether airborne pollution particles may be a vector that spreads COVID-19 and make it more virulent.
Satellite images from NASA’s Earth Observatory show significant drops in pollution across China and Italy since the start of the outbreak, as travel restrictions in those countries halt air, train and road traffic. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that the virus will weaken global investments in clean energy and industry efforts to reduce emissions and has called on governments to offer stimulus packages that consider climate change. Climate researchers also warned that the virus will hinder climate change action from corporations and countries in the long run.
The pandemic is forcing many to experiment with different ways of doing things. Substituting remote and online work for commuting and travel, thus reducing fossil fuel emissions. Some of these changes could have meaningful environmental benefits that could, in turn, benefit human health.
The unintended air pollution declines from the virus outbreak are just temporary. The pandemic’s unintended climate impact could offer up a glimpse into how countries and corporations are equipped to deal with destruction of the slower-moving climate change crisis. The long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic climate change will depend on how the countries and corporations respond to an economic crisis.