By the end of March, air pollution had dropped by between a third and a half in major cities across the UK as the pandemic lockdown dramatically reduced road travel and the fossil fuel emissions that come with it. Motor traffic has dropped by 73% to a level last seen in 1955 when there were no motorways and car ownership was significantly lower. Van traffic has dropped at a lower rate (40%) as the need for groceries and goods continues.
Ireland is seeing similar traffic reductions and in Dublin NO2 levels (toxic gases from combustion) had dropped by over 65% by late March. Public transport usage is down by 75% as stay-at-home directions remain in place.
It is a trend seen the world over from Europe to China and some striking comparison maps have been produced showing the before and after status of air pollution across China. Click here to see the dramatic change from December 2019 to March 2019, following almost two months of lockdown.
While no doubt there will be a return to widespread car usage once the pandemic threat has passed, there may be some residual changes as a consequence of this time. Many workers and businesses have adapted to the working from home model and will likely bring an element of that into the post pandemic world, reducing the level of commuter trips. Companies who may have feared the unknown of this model will have gained confidence by the evidence of its outcomes over a measurable period of time.
In addition, while negative health impacts from air pollution are well known, this sudden reduction will demonstrate their significant impact in time as research is conducted. 2021 will likely produce significant global findings in relation to health and climate change from this unforeseen, unprecedented situation.