Positive effects on the environment during coronacrisis


Two researchers on the Corona crisis, the air and the environment.


"We now have an opportunity to start to change"

The air pollution in China decreased by 20-30 percent this February, and satellite images show that the emissions of the poisonous gas nitrogen dioxide decreased all over Europe. What do the scientists say about the effects on air and environment, and can we learn something?

Anna Rutgersson (A.R.) is Professor in Meteorology at the Department of Earth Sciences and Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor at Uppsala University.

Monica Mårtensson (M.M.) is Lecturer in Meteorology at the Department of Earth Sciences, Program for Air, Water and Landscape Sciences.

How has the Corona crisis affected the environment and air in Europe?

Both the air and water has improved in many places, especially in in densely populated areas where there usually are high levels of pollution. Also we see that the emissions of green house gases have decreased. (A.R.)

Combustion of all types of fuel causes air pollution, and there are different types of air pollutions, both gases and particles. When it comes to nitrogen dioxide gases, NOx, the main sources are domestic transport, industry, working machines, heating and farming. Also, forest fires and volcanic eruptions can cause air pollutions. (M.M)

Statistics over Sweden´s emission of nitrogen dioxide can be found at the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.

What are the main causes for this present decline?

Almost all human activities affect the environment and climate in some way, and that goes for both manufacturing and transport. The Corona crisis has led to extensive restrictions when it comes to transport of people and goods and industrial production. (A.R.)

Since many transports and industries now are at a standstill surveys have shown decreased levels of nitrogen dioxide in Italy and China. In all of Europe and in many other parts of the world, people stay at home, meaning fewer planes in the air and fewer vehicles in the streets, which combine result in less combustion and less emissions from these sources. (M.M)

Some say this is a short-term effect. What is your opinion?

That depends on how we act knowing the consequences of our life styles. If we can learn from the Corona crises and for example switch to online communication, there is a big likelihood that we can switch and start a long-term change. (A.R.)

Do you think this crisis can make us more aware of the environment?

First of all, I think the analysis of this crisis will focus on other areas. But it will be a very interesting analysis how to interpret environmental aspects in relation to societal development and here we can learn a lot. (A.R.)

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Last modified: 2022-09-30