An unintended consequence of the measures against COVID-19 has been an unprecedented fall in the consumption of fossil fuels, and improvement in air quality, in numerous countries around the world. As recovery from the crisis begins and production and transport starts to resume, it’s obvious that much of the air pollution will return. What’s not obvious is whether air pollution will overshoot pre-crisis levels, especially when many economic sectors are still reeling. Such an overshoot would signify a “dirty” recovery in which the more highly polluting sectors are leading. On the other hand, effective green recovery measures could make some of the air quality gains permanent.
The graphs on this page update in real time and allow you to track these developments.
China: Pollution overshot pre-crisis levels in early May
Levels of health-harming air pollutants in China exceeded concentrations at the same time last year in early May, for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. This includes PM2.5, NO2, SO2 and ozone. Air pollutant levels plummeted during the national lockdown in February, bottomed out in early March and have now overshot their pre-crisis levels, as reported in our briefing.
The rapid rebound in air pollution and coal consumption levels across China is an early warning of what a smokestack industry-led rebound could look like: highly polluting industries have been faster to recover from the crisis than the rest of the economy.
As the world’s largest CO2 emitter and as the first major economy to reopen after the crisis, all eyes are on China. It is essential for policymakers to prioritize clean energy and reduce the country’s economic reliance on highly polluting, energy intensive industries.