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What we'll have to endure as the climate crisis gets worse
01:18 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Most Europeans are currently living under severe restrictions, stuck at home, desperately hoping for the coronavirus pandemic to pass soon.

On the flip side: the air is cleaner than it’s been in a long time.

The huge decline in road traffic, air travel and other business activities across Europe has led to sharp reductions in pollution over several major cities, new images published by the European Space Agency show. A similar effect has been recorded across the United States and in China.

The impact of the pandemic-related restrictions on air quality is staggering. In some parts of Europe, the levels of toxic pollutants in the air have been slashed by a half.

But while the short-term effect might seems positive, experts are warning that the current situation is no solution.

“Addressing long-term air quality problems requires ambitious policies and forward-looking investments,” said Hans Bruyninckx, the EEA executive director. “As such, the current crisis and its multiple impacts on our society work against what we are trying to achieve, which is a just and well-managed transition towards a resilient and sustainable society,” he added.

The ESA observations by the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite show clear declines in pollution. The measurements were taken over 10 days to even out changes in the weather, which affect the concentration of nitrogen dioxide.

Nitrogen dioxide concentrations over Italy ESA

Data from the European Environmental Agency paint a similar picture. The average concentrations of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) in the air in the Italian province of Bergamo, which has been completely paralyzed by the outbreak, were 47% lower last week than during the same week last year, the environmental agency said. The NO2 levels in Rome were 26% to 35% lower than in 2019, the environmental agency said.

Much of the NO2 pollution comes from car exhausts, which is why the strict controls on citizens movements led to such dramatic declines.

Similar declines have been observed in the US. Images taken over the first three weeks of March show significantly lower concentrations of NO2 in much of California, where places including the Bay Area and Central Valley have implemented stricter social distancing guidelines.