The earth is healing thanks to the lockdown but its future will depend on mankind

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

The environmental changes since the lockdown have given us cleaner air and clearer skies.

Air pollution has fallen by up to 60 per cent in some cities in the UK since the start of the lockdown and the climate has gotten a much needed break from 'human pollution'.

It is not a secret that before the lockdown, global warming had become a cause for concern and was happening at an alarming rate.

The rise of fossil-fueled economies over the past 200 years, and especially the accelerating Carbon emissions since the end of World War II, is clearly the cause of our mounting climate crisis. However, even though 99% of climate scientists recognise what is happening, it can still be difficult to grasp something of that magnitude.

We witnessed a new state: a warmer climate, rising sea levels, more frequent floods and droughts; and numerous hurricanes and raging wildfires. But,since motorways cleared and factories closed, dirty pollution belts have shrunk over cities and industrial centres in many countries around the world.

Meanwhile global carbon dioxide emissions are predicted to fall 4 per cent this year, a historical drop, due to the decrease of air and road traffic and heavy industry.

Levels of nitrogen dioxide, caused by road traffic, dropped significantly across countries around the world, after respective governments introduced a nationwide stay-at-home policy. In some cases, road traffic dropped by more than 70 per cent.

In England, monitoring points in London, York, Bristol, Glasgow and Nottingham were among those which saw their levels of air pollution halved.

For many experts, it is a glimpse of what the world might look like without fossil fuels. However, hopes of a cleaner world in the long-term will depend not on the short-term impact of the virus, but on the political decisions made about what follows.

Key environmental indices, which have steadily deteriorated for more than half a century, have paused or improved. In China, the world’s biggest source of carbon emissions were down about 18% between early February and mid-March – a cut of 250m tonnes, equivalent to more than half the UK’s annual output.

Meanwhile in Spain, traffic in Madrid and Barcelona, the two largest cities in the country, dropped by 60% during the first few days of the lockdown, resulting in a sharp decline in pollution levels. Vehicles are the main source of emissions in Spain.With nitrogen levels, caused mainly by diesel engine activity, the country saw those emissions drop below the 40 percent limit. As a result, it has made the air a lot cleaner.

There is no doubt that the global lockdowns are hitting the fossil fuel industry. With fewer drivers on the roads and planes in the air, the price of oil has fallen almost two-thirds since last year.

While this is not good for the oil industry and its investors, this could be good news for the climate, as it is a known fact that oil is the biggest source of the carbon emissions that are heating the planet and disrupting weather systems.

The break for nature will be less important than what follows. There is no doubt that there are ongoing discussions and strategies being put in place to ensure that the results the world has seen in the last 100 days will continue.

Meanwhile, global conferences intended to find solutions to environmental problems, such as the Cop26 UN climate talks, originally scheduled for Glasgow at the end of this year, have been postponed but there is scope to have discussions virtually to tackle climate change.

It would be unrealistic to think that the world will return to ‘era’s old norms’ of climate and atmosphere. The effects of residual enhanced CO2 will take centuries to work out under the best of scenarios. However, there is hope that as a species we can take immediate and “exponential” action by promoting the use of clean energy sources, reduce direct emissions of greenhouse gases and be more environmentally friendly at home, at work and in our day to day lives.