Early responses to the Covid-19 pandemic led to dramatic reductions in air pollutant concentrations in many locations worldwide (e.g. Shi et al., 2021, Hu et al., 2021, Beloconi et al., 2021). Research has suggested that significant health benefits could be realised if these air pollution reductions remain in the long-term after government restrictions are relaxed (e.g. Myllyvirta and Thieriot, 2020).
In this report, we investigate nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution data from ground level monitors and satellite observations. The analysis compares air quality before the emergence of Covid-19 against pollution measurements made during different stages of the pandemic. Ground level measurements of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) were also analysed in those locations where data were readily available. Weather conditions can hide or exaggerate the effect of changes in emissions on air quality; therefore a statistical technique is used to account for the effect of weather in different time periods.
The pandemic continues to have a colossal impact on public health, the economy and lifestyles in 2021. Despite the continuing threat and disruption, economic activity has rebounded in many locations, often with governmental support. However, because there has been little change to our reliance on fossil fuels, including coal, oil and gas, increased economic activity has been followed by increased air pollution in many cities. The health impact of fossil-fuel related air pollution is severe. A previous Greenpeace Southeast Asia study found that air pollution from burning fossil fuels – primarily coal, oil, and gas – was responsible for an estimated 4.5 million deaths each year worldwide (Farrow et al., 2020).
For this reason, a transition to clean energy sources such as wind and solar and clean and sustainable mobility must be central to recovery efforts worldwide. The recovery from the pandemic must not risk a return to previous levels of air pollution.
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End the air pollution crisis once and for all, because no-one should have to worry about what they breathe.