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Norwich research finds big drops in pollution since lockdown

PUBLISHED: 17:02 19 May 2020 | UPDATED: 17:02 19 May 2020

Corinne Le Quere, professor of climate change science at the UEA. PLanes in storage at Norwich Airport during the lockdown. Picture: Denise Bradley

Corinne Le Quere, professor of climate change science at the UEA. PLanes in storage at Norwich Airport during the lockdown. Picture: Denise Bradley

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Daily carbon emissions dropped by more than a sixth around the world at the height of the coronavirus lockdown, research carried out in Norwich has suggested.

The normally busy Grapes Hill without traffic during the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Brittany WoodmanThe normally busy Grapes Hill without traffic during the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Brittany Woodman

However, the “extreme” reduction in emissions is “likely to be temporary”, said Corinne Le Quere, professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Daily emissions decreased by 17pc - or 17m tonnes of carbon dioxide - globally during the peak of the confinement measures in early April compared to mean daily levels in 2019, the study indicated.

Corinne Le Quere, professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia. Picture: UEACorinne Le Quere, professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia. Picture: UEA

These levels were last observed in 2006.

Emissions from surface transport such as car journeys account for almost half (43pc) of the decrease in global emissions during peak confinement on April 7, according to the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Aircraft in storage at Norwich Airport as airports around the UK are closed in the lockdown due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Picture: Denise BradleyAircraft in storage at Norwich Airport as airports around the UK are closed in the lockdown due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Picture: Denise Bradley

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Emissions from industry and power together account for a further 43% of the decrease in daily global emissions. Aviation made up 10pc of the decrease.

Prof Le Quere, who led the analysis, said: “Population confinement has led to drastic changes in energy use and CO2 emissions.

Phil Williamson, of the UEA school of environmental sciences. Picture: UEAPhil Williamson, of the UEA school of environmental sciences. Picture: UEA

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“These extreme decreases are likely to be temporary though, as they do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport, or energy systems.

There has been a big increase in environmental activties like cycling during lockdown. Picture: Denise BradleyThere has been a big increase in environmental activties like cycling during lockdown. Picture: Denise Bradley

“Opportunities exist to make real, durable changes and to be more resilient to future crises, by implementing economic stimulus packages that also help meet climate targets, especially for mobility, which accounts for half the decrease in emissions during confinement.

“For example, in cities and suburbs, supporting walking and cycling, and the uptake of electric bikes, is far cheaper and better for wellbeing and air quality than building roads, and it preserves social distancing.”

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Earlier in lockdown another UEA academic, Dr Phillip Williamson, from school of environmental sciences, had predicted international but also local benefits.

He said: “If there are noticeable changes in abundance in the weeks and months ahead, cause and effect may be hard to prove. There are, of course, long term environmental implications.

“Will we still go ahead with HS2, road building schemes such as completing the NDR to the A47, extra runways and airports, etc?

“Even if demand returns for national and international travel, which is far from certain, can the country afford to?”

He added: “Whatever the outcome, this unplanned ‘experiment’ in emission reduction will greatly improve our understanding of how the climate works, and how it is affected by our actions.”


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