As China’s air pollution exceeds pre-coronavirus levels, scientists say Europe isn’t far behind

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Levels of health-harming air pollutants in China have exceeded last year’s concentrations in the past 30 days, for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Emissions of pollutants dropped dramatically worldwide in February and March as countries began to introduce lockdown measures to tackle the crisis. This drop in emissions led to clearer skies and improved air quality, offering a small silver-lining during an otherwise bleak time. People shared photos from cities all over the world of skylines coming into view as smogs cleared.

However, as restrictions have gradually eased and governments are looking to big industry to kickstart economies, it looks as though pollutant levels are set to soar once again.

The data from China was released by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), whose study measured levels of Nitrogen Dioxide, Sulphur Dioxide, ozone and tiny pollutant particles called PM2.5.

During lockdown, PM2.5 levels across China fell by 33% while NO2 levels dropped by 40%.

Haze over Eastern China caused by PM2.5 particles. © NASA Earth

This overshooting of pre-crisis pollutant levels in China has led to concern among scientists of a potential “dirty recovery” from COVID-19. Vincent-Henri Peuch, director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, has said his organisation fully expects levels in Europe to rebound in a similar way.

Across the globe, governments have not hesitated to bailout big polluters, crushing the hopes of environmental campaigners that the crisis might lead to the decline of certain damaging industries.

Earlier this week, the chiefs of some of Britain’s leading charities wrote to the Prime Minister to demand a “green recovery” from the coronavirus crisis, urging him to use economic rescue packages to build low-carbon infrastructure and catalyse the creation of long-term green jobs.

They also called for any state bailouts to be subject to strict environmental conditions, but it remains to be seen whether the UK Government will listen to these demands.


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Featured image: Beijing smog comparison © Wikimedia Commons




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