Falling emissions but radical response still needed, Yorkshire scientists say
The public's pandemic response is cutting greenhouse emissions and air pollution but a radical response after the pandemic subsides will be key to deciding the event's impact on climate change, Yorkshire scientists have said.
The Covid-19 crisis has caused a dramatic reduction in car traffic on the roads, reduced industrial activity and cancelled flights, causing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution levels to fall across Yorkshire and around the globe.
However Yorkshire scientists are urging local authorities to put in place radical plans for a low-carbon future including effective clean air zone plans across the region to aid the impact on climate change.
Dr Jim McQuaid, Professor of Atmospheric Composition from the University of Leeds said: "Right now it's like an experiment- we can run this to see how we can tackle air pollution as an issue because we have got rid of a lot of the cars."
A clean air zone, in which the dirtiest vehicles are deterred from urban centres by charges, was due to be implemented in Leeds this year, but have now been delayed at least to January 2021.
The authority said the delays are to ease the travel of key workers such as NHS staff and essential deliveries, as well as to allow officials to focus on tackling Covid-19.
"At the moment clean air zone plans are on hold for the city, but we are learning lessons that could help us in the future," said Dr McQuaid.
"Policy makers need to think long term about when they are going to tackle local pollution with clean air zones."
He added despite the coronavirus lockdown resulting in pollution cut by a third to a half in the city, including a key pollutant produced by vehicles, nitrogen dioxide, the positives could be short-lived.
"What we are seeing now is that we can turn off pollution with the lockdown but when you turn off lockdown pollution comes back very quickly," he said.
"The local public have already changed our travel habits, and it's shown that we don't necessarily need to travel quite as much as we do.
"Therefore local authorities can factor this in to make the best plans for clean air zones in the city."
Elsewhere in many other cities, including Sheffield they are still considering implementing Clean Air Zones.
Professor Peter Styring, from the department chemical and biological engineering at the University of Sheffield, said the city needed to "use this opportunity" during the Covid-19 crisis to improve transport system to aid the the city with its clean air zones proposals.
"It is right that climate change has been pushed to the back burner because this is an immediate crisis but the problem is we might stumble out of this and hit by an even bigger crisis - which is climate change," he said.
"We were making predictions about how the clean air zones might affect the city - this is actually showing this it will affect the city in a positive way.
"There needs to be a policy where transport is fully integrated.
"At the moment Sheffield is only proposing a clean air zone but if you don't have the transport system to support clean air zones and infrastructure they will not be effective."
During the lockdown Professor Styring recorded the level of nitrogen oxide has an air quality index of zero on some of the busiest roads in the city, while on his daily commute to work.
"It's just incredible the change," he said. "Normally the pollution levels would be through the roof".
However he warned a county wide response would be needed to decide the pandemic's impact on climate change.
"The concern is that there will be this bounce back in Yorkshire and the UK, people will just start using cars again and start remitting," he said.
"There are ways of using vaccines against coronavirus. There are no vaccines against climate change.
"It has to be human adaptation across the county. We need to ration travel - we need to think about how we travel and see travel as a luxury, not as a given".
Overall air pollution has started to improve in many UK cities, including Leeds and York, according to the latest data from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science based at the Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratory.
The analysis shows that levels of nitrogen dioxide and small particle pollution are significantly lower than the levels normally seen at this time of year.
“The air is definitely much healthier” says Professor James Lee from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the University of York.
The data comes from background air monitoring stations in cities, sited away from main roads.
In most cities, the level of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter is below the typical level for this time of year.
Professor Ally Lewis, Director of Science at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science added: “In the midst of a respiratory health crisis such as this, better air quality can only have a small effect, but it will undoubtedly be positive, relative to business as usual levels of pollution.
"It is further motivation, as if it were needed, to stay inside and not travel unless necessary, since the emissions and pollution avoided makes a helpful difference.”
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