After months of blue skies and cleaner air, China’s air pollution appears to be back as the coronavirus lockdowns ease. Experts suggest that what happens in China won’t stay in China – rather, it is a precedent for other countries around the world.
On Friday, Greenpeace China released data showing air pollution levels in the country has already bounced back after months of having lower levels of pollutants, due to the coronavirus lockdown restrictions. What’s more is that the toxic pollutant levels in April were even higher than the levels during the same period last year.
Greenpeace China and energy expert Li Shuo said, that the rise in air pollution was due to the increase in industrial production, which was forced to a standstill during the lockdown, as well as weather patterns that contributed to the air pollution problem. Additionally, China is reliant upon coal for the majority or its energy needs, and electricity production also increased in April.
In late April the European Environmental Bureau (EBB) also noted air pollution’s return to China, warning Europe could also be headed in the same direction. During the coronavirus lockdown, European countries such as Italy and Paris also saw significant decreases in pollutant levels. Now the lockdowns are being lifted.
As the lockdown laws are gradually lifted, people will return to work, school and other leisurely activities. Notably, there will be an increase in pollution level as people will begin to travel more. This combined with the increase in industrial production and trade, will inevitably lead to higher levels in pollutant levels, unless action is taken.
EBB air policy officer Mergherita Tolotto said, “Breathing toxic air compromises our health and makes us more vulnerable to health threats.” Not only is air pollution bad for the environment, but it can also be detrimental to ones physical health. She also noted that any pandemic-related economic recovery programmes should match the European Green Deal, and its’ zero pollution goal. This means that governments need to promote cleaner energy, smarter mobility, sustainable agriculture and industry to build a cleaner, more resilient future.
So what does this mean for air and climate change beyond the current crisis? As we’ve seen with China, air pollution can return as quickly as it faded, if fossil fuel use rebounds. Only technologies, policies and investments that replace fossil fuels with energy efficient and clean fuels can sustainably achieve cleaner air and a stable climate.