Clearing the air: Carbon emissions down amid coronavirus outbreak

The novel coronavirus has brought the world to a screeching halt, and the environment is benefitting in a big way.

In an attempt to decrease the rapid spread of COVID-19, economic activity has been hugely limited, resulting in a decline in CO2 emissions, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Friday.

In a statement, the WMO said cuts in emissions don’t mean the world must stop its fight against climate change.

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“Despite local reductions in pollution and improvement in air quality, it would be irresponsible to downplay the enormous global health challenges and loss of life as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said.

“However, now is the time to consider how to use economic stimulus packages to support a long-term switch to more environmentally and climate-friendly business and personal practices.”

A study conducted by Severe Weather Europe says the world typically sees an increase in CO2 emissions in the colder months in the Northern Hemisphere. However, this year has been different.

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“We are noticing an interesting development, as the CO2 levels are currently increasing at a much slower rate than expected,” the authors write.

“Looking at the last 12 months of CO2 data from Mauna Loa observatory (in Hawaii), we can see the CO2 rise last year and this season, which shows slower growth than expected.”

Kris Karnauskas, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder, wrote on Twitter: “I’m not certain this is caused by #COVID19 but there have only been two years since 1975 when CO2 rose less since the first of the year.”

Countries practising extreme lockdowns, like Italy and China, have seen the biggest decline in air pollution.

The Venice canal, typically bogged down with tourists in gondolas and cruise ships, is now crystal clear, according to photos shared by Twitter user @FolinAlberto.

Cruise ships are typically seen sailing into the Venice lagoon and have caused harmful levels of pollution, Euro Weekly News reports. Without them, the water has had a chance to clear.

A typical March would see nearly 700,000 people arrive in Venice on cruise ships or otherwise, the South China Morning Post reports.

The decline in tourism has brought back “the lagoon waters of ancient times, those of the post-war period, when it was even still possible to bathe in the waters of the canals,” according to local newspaper La Nuova di Venezia e Mestre.

Air quality has also improved in Italy.

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Though social isolation has been difficult, it’s had a massively positive effect on CO2 emissions, according to European Space Agency data analyzed by the Washington Post.

Between Jan. 1 and March 12, concentrations of nitrogen dioxide — produced by cars and power plants — fell immensely, especially over Italy, according to the ESA’s Sentinel-5P satellite.

“I guess this is mostly diesel cars out of the road,” Emanuele Massetti, an expert on the economics of climate change at Georgia Tech, told the Washington Post.

One of the largest drops in pollution, The Guardian reports, can be seen over Wuhan, the virus’s epicentre in China.

Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, was put on strict lockdown in January. According to NASA, the nitrogen dioxide levels across eastern and central China have been 10 to 30 per cent lower than normal.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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