Experts explain that the pandemic is no substitute for sustained and systematic action to tackle major drivers of pollution and climate change.
Key air pollutants temporarily plunged to unprecedented levels in 2020, during lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic last year.
What’s more, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) of the United Nations (UN), fine particle pollution fell by more than a third across parts of Asia.
According to the report, restrictions imposed temporarily improved air quality in many places, especially in urban areas.
But they also provoked an increase in certain pollutants that are harmful to health and that have an uncertain impact on climate change.
“Covid-19 proved to be an unplanned air-quality experiment,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. “It did lead to temporary localized improvements.”
“But a pandemic is not a substitute for sustained and systematic action to tackle major drivers of pollution and climate change, and so safeguard the health of both people and planet,” he added.
Air pollution, in particular particle pollution, has significant impacts on human health and is linked to millions of deaths each year.
Analysis performed in dozens of cities around the world showed decreases of up to 40% in particulate matter concentrations during full lockdown, compared with the same periods in 2015-2019.
This generally means improved air quality, although it deteriorated again when emissions picked back up after restrictions were lifted.
However, even as human-caused emissions fell, weather extremes fueled by global warming “triggered unprecedented sand and dust storms and wildfires that affected air quality,” WMO said.
What’s more, the reduction of certain microparticles can fuel climate change, such as those containing sulfur that help cool the atmosphere, explained Oksana Tarasova, who heads WMO’s Atmospheric Environment Research Division.
In places where human-caused emissions fell, a rise in ozone levels was recorded, which can be harmful to human health when on ground level.
This Friday, The World Conservation Congress began in Marseilles, France, under an adverse scenario regarding our future climate.
“We’re asking too much of the planet. We’re taking and taking … and not taking care of our resources, our biodiversity,” declared Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director General, in a debate with indigenous organizations.
“There’s a virtuous circle. If there’s mass mobilization, accelerated effects will come,” said French President Emmanuel Macron as a message of hope when officially opening the congress.
At the same time, Macron announced the One Ocean summit which will be held in France at the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022.
The Marseilles Congress brings together thousands of experts in biodiversity conservation until September 10, although many of the debates are being held online due to Covid-19.
For decades, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN, founded in 1948), the event’s organizer, has worked discreetly to catalog the planet’s natural wealth and to guide environmental policies of the more than one hundred countries who are its members.
Their main tool is the Red List of Threatened Species, with nine categories, which will be updated this Saturday.
The IUCN has cataloged just over 137,000 plant and animal species to date (its goal is a minimum of 160,000), of which 28% are threatened with extinction.
“Nature is suffering its fastest decline in human history,” UN experts warned in 2019.
There are fewer than 7,000 cheetahs living in the wild. Other species, such as the white rhino, are practically extinct.
The role of climate change in this dramatic mutation of biodiversity is a subject of debate at the heart of the IUCN, which has to approve whether to establish a commission on the matter.
The Marseilles Congress works in a peculiar way, through a joint assembly of States and non-governmental organizations.
Their decisions are only recommendations, without entailing any legal obligation.
And this year, for the first time since a reform approved in 2016, it has the voice and vote of indigenous organizations. (AFP)