Our country, India has a national population of some 1.3 billion people. It has recorded 1,071 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 disease, and 29 deaths, as of today, according to research conducted by Johns Hopkins University. ‘Isn’t it ironic that coronavirus has caused a massive drop in vehicular pollution (to help our lungs breathe clean air again) in Delhi, but it will attack those very lungs if we’re not careful?’ one person wrote on Twitter.
‘What a gorgeous day in Delhi,’ another wrote.
‘Delhi pollution is decreasing day by day and it’s all due to coronavirus,’ wrote another.
Because of the lockdown & major population quarantining themselves along with the stringent travel restrictions and shutting down of all the non-essential activities has brought about an enormous decline in the levels of nitrogen & other oxide—a pollutant produced due to combustion of fuel—all over India.
We all are aware of the fact that out of the 30 most polluted cities in the world, 22 of them are in India. However, following a country-wide lockdown in a bid to slow down the spread of Covid-19 pollution levels have begun to significantly decrease. On March 22, millions of residents went into lockdown, and on the same day, parts of India recorded the lowest average levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution ever recorded in the Spring season. As shown on the Real-Time Air Quality Index, in Delhi, particulate matter (PM2.5) dropped from 165µg/m3 on March 21, a level which is considered unhealthy to everyone, to 64µg/m3 on March 29, a level which is considered moderate or acceptable.
As per the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR), nitrogen oxide levels in the atmosphere since March 5, 2020, have fallen by approximately 45% in Mumbai and Pune, and by 50% or so in Ahmedabad, as compared to the levels recorded in 2018 and 2019. While no significant change has been observed in Delhi so far, PM2.5 levels have been displaying a declining tendency. Also, the strict lockdown orders issued across the country, along with several other drastic measures taken by the governments to curb the spread of the deadly virus, have collectively reduced the number of vehicles on the road. Moreover, factories and industrial units have also been functioning at a bare minimum, if at all. The latest advisory statement by the World Meteorological Organisation read: “The current efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic have reduced economic activity and led to localized improvements in the air quality. But it is too early to assess the implications for concentrations of greenhouse gases, which are responsible for long-term climate change.” Talking about the capital, a combination of novel coronavirus outbreak-related lockdown and favorable weather conditions has improved air quality to ‘satisfactory’ last Monday, March 23. According to the SAFAR, the capital has recorded an overall air quality index (AQI) of 92, which lies towards the higher end of the ‘satisfactory’ category (AQIs 51 to 100).
A similar & simultaneous pattern has been observed in many other countries following lockdown, for example, earlier this month Italy recorded a drop in air pollution, as did the UK as air pollution levels halved. Although the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air has said that this should not be seen as a silver lining in their recent statements, it should be seen as how normalized the massive death toll from air pollution has become. They state that once the Covid-19 crisis is over, there are far more effective ways for the government to address air pollution than shutting down parts of the economy, such as enforcing emission standards for large polluters. In related news, research has found that exposure to air pollution increases the risk of dying from Covid-19. The warning has come from the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), who say that doctors are starting to link higher death rates for Covid-19 to illnesses caused by air pollution such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain respiratory illnesses.
A global pandemic that is claiming people’s lives certainly shouldn’t be seen as a way of bringing about environmental change either. For one thing, it’s far from certain how lasting this dip in emissions will be. When the pandemic eventually subsides, will carbon and pollutant emissions “bounce back” so much that it will be as if this clear-skied interlude never happened? Or could the changes we see today have a more persistent effect? The first thing to consider is the different reasons that emissions have dropped. Take transport, for example, which makes up 23% of global carbon emissions. These emissions have fallen in the short term in countries where public health measures, such as keeping people in their homes, have cut unnecessary travel. Driving and aviation are key contributors to emissions from transport, contributing 72% and 11% of the transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions respectively. We know that for the duration of reduced travel during the pandemic, these emissions will stay lower.
In terms of routine trips like commuting, those miles left untravelled during the pandemic aren’t going to come back – you’re not going to travel to the office twice a day to make up for all the times you worked from home. But what about other kinds of travel – might the cabin-fever of self-isolation encourage people to travel more when the option is there again?
“I can see arguments in both directions,”. “It may be the case that people who are avoiding travel right now are really appreciating spending time with families and focusing on those really core priorities. These moments of crisis can highlight how important those priorities are and help people focus on the health and wellbeing of family, friends, and community.”
If this change in focus is a result of the pandemic sticks, then this could help to keep emissions lower, I suggest.
But there’s another way it could go. “It could also be that people are putting off long-distance trips but plan on taking them later”. Frequent flying forms a large part of the carbon footprint for people who do it regularly, so these emissions could simply come back if people return to their old habits. The only positive thing about this pandemic is that we can breathe easy & if we survive this pandemic and continue the habits that we are following right now then we might increase our life expectancy.
Content Courtesy: Rohan Mishra
Listen, Learn and lead