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Air pollution in China is already back up to pre-lockdown levels

The pause in human activity had been having a positive impact on the planet

By
Ellie Walker-Arnott
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While global lockdowns have been scary and limiting for people all over world, there have been some positive side effects, like animals enjoying new found freedoms in previously human-dominated areas and a dramatic dip in global emissions

Air quality around the world also saw significant changes, thanks to grounded flights, less road traffic and pauses in industry. 

There was an especially notable drop in the levels of nitrogen dioxide, a gas that comes from the burning of fossil fuels, over China during lockdown. 

Air pollution over China
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

But it seems like the cleaner, clearer skies were temporary. As China has come out of lockdown in recent weeks, scientists from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air have found that air pollution levels have returned to the same level that they were at one year earlier. They had been down by as much as 38 per cent. 

‘The rapid rebound in air pollution and coal consumption levels across China is an early warning of what a smokestack industry-led rebound could look like,’ the centre’s lead analyst Lauri Myllyvirta told The Guardian, adding: ‘Highly polluting industries have been faster to recover from the crisis than the rest of the economy. It is essential for policymakers to prioritise clean energy.’

With Europe tentatively stepping out of lockdowns at the moment, there is concern that air pollution levels are set to increase again over over the continent too. 

The hope, though, is that places will be able to maintain the positive changes they’ve seen during this period. Many cities are pedestrianising streets and creating new cycle lanes to encourage more environmentally-friendly movement. Cities that were previously plagued with over-tourism are looking at ways to promote greener, more sustainable travel going forward. And calls for permanent flexible working arrangements could mean that people continue to avoid cars and public transport in favour of working remotely from home. Only time will tell.  

Wouldn’t it be nice if whales were always allowed to thrive in human-free oceans?  

Thailand’s national parks are set to close for two months every year to give the wildlife a break from humanity. 

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