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UN: Brief Gains In Air Quality In 2020 Over COVID Lockdowns

The World Meteorological Organization, releasing its first ever Air Quality and Climate Bulletin on Friday, cautioned that the reductions in pollution were patchy — and many parts of the world showed levels that outpaced air quality guidelines

UN: Brief Gains In Air Quality In 2020 Over COVID Lockdowns
Highlights
  • Some types of pollutants continued to emerge during lockdowns: UN
  • COVID-19 proved to be an unplanned air-quality experiment: UN
  • Nitrogen oxides destroy ozone in the air: WMO

Geneva: The UN weather agency says the world — and especially urban areas — experienced a brief, sharp drop in emissions of air pollutants last year amid lockdown measures and related travel restrictions put in place over the coronavirus pandemic. The World Meteorological Organisation, releasing its first ever Air Quality and Climate Bulletin on Friday, cautioned that the reductions in pollution were patchy — and many parts of the world showed levels that outpaced air quality guidelines. Some types of pollutants continued to emerge at regular or even higher levels.

Also Read: Air Pollution Could Cut Life Expectancy By 9 Years In North India: US Study

“COVID-19 proved to be an unplanned air-quality experiment, and it did lead to temporary localised improvements,” said Petteri Taalas, the WMO secretary-general.

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

The WMO study analysed changes in air quality around the main pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and ozone. The Geneva-based agency noted an “unprecedented decrease” in pollutant emissions as many governments restricted gatherings, closed schools, and imposed lockdowns. Oksana Tarasova, head of WMO’s atmospheric environment research division, said the impact of such measures on major pollutants was short-lived. When measures to reduce mobility mean “there are no cars on the street, you see the improvement in air quality immediately. And of course, as soon as the cars go back on the street, you get the worsening back”.

That compared to “long-lead greenhouse gases” behind global warming like carbon dioxide, whose atmospheric levels can take many years to change. WMO cited declines of up to nearly 70% in average nitrous oxide levels and up to 40% drops — recorded in southeast Asia — of average levels of tiny particulate matter in the air during full lockdown measures last year, compared to the same periods from 2015 to 2019.

But ozone levels, for example, stayed at similar levels or even rose in some places. Carbon monoxide levels fell in all regions, especially South America. One conundrum for policy makers is that some pollutants like sulfur dioxide in the air actually help to cool the atmosphere, partially offsetting the impacts of climate change. Ms Tarasova said air quality was “very complex” and noted that events like wildfires in Australia, smoke from biomass burning in Siberia and the US, and the “Godzilla effect” — in which sand and dust drift from the Sahara Desert across the Atlantic to North America — also had effects on air quality last year.

Also Read: Air Quality Commission Asks NCR States To Adopt ISRO’s Protocol For Farm Fire Estimation

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene

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