The World Meteorological Organization’s report was based on research into how important air pollutants behaved in and around cities around the world.
The UN stated on Friday that pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions resulted in huge but temporary improvements in air quality and reductions in pollution, but warned that the blip was no alternative for long-term action.
According to a new analysis from the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Covid-19 limitations last year improved air quality in a number of locations, particularly in metropolitan areas.
They did, however, cause a surge in some pollutants that were both harmful to human health and had an unknown impact on climate change.
In a statement, WMO chief Petteri Taalas said, “Covid-19 proved to be an unforeseen air-quality experiment.”
He said, “It did contribute to brief localized improvements.”
“However, a pandemic is not a substitute for ongoing and systematic effort to address major drivers of pollution and climate change, and thereby protect people and the planet’s health.”
Air pollution, particularly that involving tiny particles, has a significant impact on human health and is responsible for millions of fatalities each year.
The World Meteorological Organization’s report was based on research into how important air pollutants behaved in and around dozens of cities around the world.
Small particle concentrations dropped by up to 40% during complete lockdown compared to the same periods in 2015-2019, according to the study.
This resulted in overall better air quality, albeit it deteriorated after emissions resumed following the lockout.
In addition, the study implied that the situation was more complicated.
Even when human-caused emissions decreased, climate change-related weather extremes “produced unprecedented sand and dust storms and wildfires that harmed air quality,” according to the World Meteorological Organization.
While lowering all types of particles in the atmosphere is beneficial to human health, some decreases may potentially contribute to climate change.
Lockdowns reduced emissions of greenhouse gases like CO2, which warm the climate, but they also reduced emissions of particles that cool the atmosphere, such as those containing sulphur, according to Oksana Tarasova, head of the WMO’s Atmospheric Environment Research Division.
She told journalists in Geneva, “Addressing particles is quite complex.”
“We must lower both cooling and warming at the same time in order to achieve a balance in climate impacts.”
The WMO also noted that, although human-caused emissions fell in many regions, ozone levels rose, which provides essential protection from cancer-causing ultraviolet rays in the stratosphere but is extremely detrimental to human health closer to the ground.
According to Tarasova, this was likely owing to the fact that a variety of pollutants released by the transportation industry, such as nitrogen oxides, destroy ozone in the atmosphere.