Geneva | The United Nations said on Friday that control and travel restrictions intended to fight the pandemic had led to a dramatic but temporary improvement in air quality.
By 2020, air pollution in many places, especially in the metropolitan areas, had temporarily dropped as a result of COVID-19-related sanctions, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), UN Meteorological Organization (WMO), concluded the UN report.
But they have led to an increase in some pollutants that are dangerous to health and its impact on climate change is difficult to pinpoint.
“COVID-19 has become an unexpected experiment on air quality”, which “allows for temporary improvements locally,” WMO Secretary-General Petrie Thalas said in a statement.
“But the pandemic is not an alternative to sustainable and systematic action to address the major drivers of pollution and climate change,” he warned.
Air pollution, especially microscopic particles, can cause serious health damage and cause millions of deaths each year.
The WMO report shows that in some cities in the spring of 2020, the microbial density decreased by 40% compared to the period 2015-2019.
However, emissions rebounded when lockdowns were lifted and air quality deteriorated again.
The report also highlights the complexity of the situation.
Despite the drop in emissions from human activity, the year was marked by “unprecedented sand and dust storms and fires affecting air quality.”
And while reducing the amount of particulate matter in the atmosphere is good for health, some of those reductions are fueling climate change.
Thus the restrictions reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2, but the particles that help cool the atmosphere, such as those containing sulfur, said Oksana Tarasova, director of the WMO’s climate research division.
“To achieve a balanced effect on the atmosphere we need to reduce (particles) to cool and heat at the same time,” she told reporters in Geneva.
The WMO also noted an increase in ozone concentrations – a gas that protects the sun from ultraviolet rays when in stratosphere, but is very dangerous to health when close to Earth.
This may be due to a reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions from transport, a pollutant that destroys ozone.