COVID-19’s positive effect on the environment

Elin Molenaar / April 10, 2020

Decrease in global air pollution

NASA scientists have noticed a drop in global air pollution due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Satellite data – mapping from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P – shows a large decrease in air pollution due to the temporary shutdown of most industrial activity, general traffic, and global air traffic in many countries. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations started to reduce in the cities and countries that were first hit by the virus, such as Wuhan, China.

China

Usually, businesses and factories in China – and other countries in Asia – close because of Lunar New Year. These closures take place from the last week in January to the beginning of February. NASA’s scientists took this in account when analyzing the data but found that the air pollution usually rebounds once everything opens up again – this year it didn’t.

China has enforced stricter environmental regulations over the past years. NASA has noticed this has caused a reduction in emissions in some of the metropoles in the country. For instance, Beijing showed a 10 per cent drop in NO2 emissions despite the urbanization that continues to take place. NASA scientists took this in account when analyzing the change in emissions due to the pandemic, but still noticed a bigger drop than in other months.

A Wuhan resident has noticed the decrease in smog over the past few years and confirms the added environmental regulations have had an impact. The picture was taken in Wuhan on March 27, 2020.

Europe

Images from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite also show a big reduction in pollution above major cities in Europe such as Milan and Paris. European Space Agency’s (ESA) website says that other countries in Europe are also being monitored but so far scientists have observed that the weather also plays a big role in whether air pollution is visible or not.

Reductions don’t guarantee improvement

Loujain Kurdi, Communications Officer with Greenpeace Canada, argues that the drop in air pollution come after a long period of sustained increase. She says the last few years have been the hottest ever recorded and global pollution continues to take lives every year.

“Generally, industrial emissions have decreased, but we are noting an increase in residential emissions associated with the isolation restrictions due to the pandemic. In short, it’s wrong to think that the virus is beneficial for the environment.” – Loujain Kurdi, Communications Officer Green Peace Canada

According to Kurdi, these drops are temporary and when the global economy kicks back in, countries will want to catch up and this will affect the environment drastically.

How animals get affected by a pandemic

In some places the water has become clearer because of the lack of boats going around and fish are visible again.

Now that everyone is staying inside there is also a lack of noise and presence of people to keep animals away. It is more attractive for them to walk into urban areas now than before. Greenpeace explains that our temporary disappearance also affect their food sources.

World Health Organization (WHO) confirms, however, that so far animals cannot get infected with the virus.