Every Cloud…

Every Cloud… by Kenneth Gibson, MSP

While enduring the COVID-19 crisis is difficult and emotional for many, it can help us to remind ourselves of some positive news at this challenging time. For example, air pollution levels across Europe have dropped significantly in the weeks since lockdowns began across the continent to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Analysis shows that some cities have seen nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels fall by up to 60% on the same period last year. NO2, released from car exhausts, is a serious air pollutant and also indirectly contributes to global warming. Such pollution over Northern Italy, formerly the highest on the continent, has fallen dramatically following their nationwide lockdown.

The European Space Agency (ESA) uses the Sentinel-5P satellite to continuously monitor atmospheric pollution. In recent weeks, satellite imagery has shown a ‘significant decline’ in emissions over Italy’s Po Valley.

Researchers who study the impact of air pollution on climate change and human health can use this data to understand the impact of declining air pollution which the ESA will continue to closely monitor.

A similar pattern was also seen in China earlier this year when satellite data found a sharp fall in emissions of NO2, first in Wuhan and then over other cities.

Finland’s Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air also found that CO2 emissions in China fell by a quarter in February.

In Delhi, India, air quality index (AQI) levels are usually a severe 200 on a good day. For context, anything above 25 is deemed unsafe by the World Health Organization. Last year they soared to a life-threatening 900 at times and sometimes went beyond the measurable scale. However, since Delhi’s 11 million registered cars were taken off the roads and factories shut last month, AQI levels have regularly fallen below 20.

The impact of the current COVID-19 crisis on environmental conservation, farming and land management, is significant and the lessons learned from the worldwide pandemic should include recognition of the importance of biodiversity and respect for the natural world.

I look forward to the time when we can again able to enjoy the sights and sounds of Scotland’s wildlife. However, it is important that when industry and cars again fill our roads in the post-lockdown era, we do not go back to square one, or even get worse, as industry attempts to make up for lost time.

This sudden drop in air pollution has shown that less traffic can very quickly lead to cleaner air. Once the crisis has passed, we must learn these lessons to build a better and cleaner future for ourselves and the planet.