Global coronavirus lockdowns sends pollution plummeting, but it's not time to 'pop the champagne' yet

Paris has had a significant decrease in pollution levels since the city entered lockdowns to prevent the outbreak of coronavirus Source: AFP

The coronavirus outbreak has forced factory shutdowns, travel bans and caused economic disaster around the globe - but it isn't all bad news for the environment.

With many across the globe staying home in an attempt to flatten the coronavirus curve, it seems the environment has been one of the biggest benefactors.

The slowing down of the global economy has presented an environmental silver-lining, with sharp reductions in carbon emissions and air pollution in some of the world’s most populous cities.

In the four weeks to 1 March, China's CO2 emissions fell 200 million tonnes, or 25 per cent, compared to the same period last year, according to the centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

Los Angeles Pollution
The skies above the city of Los Angeles are clearer with the city is in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic
Ted Soqui/Sipa USA

That's a decline equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions from Argentina, Egypt or Vietnam.

Air travel has also come to a virtual halt, resulting in a short-term drop in emissions.

Environmental changes have been seen across the world, with Los Angeles experiencing its longest stretch of good air quality since 1996, according to Environmental Protection Authority data.

Venice canals
A lack of motorboat and cruise ship traffic due to the coronavirus lockdown has meant clearer waters of the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge
AFP

Crystal-clear water has also been spotted in the Vencie canals usually filled with tourist-laden boats.

Lockdowns in the Philippines has seen air quality in the capital city Manila improve by 180 per cent, with the University of the Philippines recording a significant reduction in particle matter in the air since 16 March.

In India, residents in the country’s north have reported they have been able to see the snow-capped Himalayas, more than 200 kilometres away, for the first time in 30 years.

Manila air quality
The air quality in Manila has experienced a 180% improvement since the coronavirus lockdown
LightRocket

But some experts say the changes may be short-lived. 

Once the health crisis is over, experts expect countries will double down to try to make up for lost time, with climate change concerns likely to be sidelined in a race to recover economic growth.

Li Shuo, senior climate and energy policy officer at Greenpeace in Beijing, said it's not time to "pop the champagne corks" just yet.

Himalayas seen from Pathankot as pollution levels in India drop
Himalayas seen from Pathankot as pollution levels in India drop.
Twitter

"It's hardly a sustainable way to reduce emissions," he said

It was a sentiment shared by the European Environment Agency, which stressed the importance of a long-term approach to reducing pollution around the world.

"The current crisis and its multiple impacts on our society work against what we are trying to achieve, which is a just and well-managed transition towards a resilient and sustainable society," the agency's director Hans Bruyninckx said.

"For cities to become climate neutral requires continuous emission reductions over a long period."

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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