When it comes to air pollution, which contributes to millions of premature deaths around the world each year, China sites on top of the list. Even though the rapid growth in the economy has lifted millions of people out of poverty in China, which is currently battling with Novel Coronavirus, it also caused the immense level of environmental degradation.
But recently the US space agency NASA has released satellite-images which showed a dramatic decline in the levels of China's air pollution. While explaining this case, the agency stated that such decline happened due to an economic slowdown which was caused by the new Coronavirus outbreak that has killed over 2,900 people worldwide and infected more than 85,000 individuals.
The decline in pollution level
It should be noted that as per NASA, the maps showed a falling level of nitrogen dioxide in 2020 which happened after Chinese factory activity stop and the city- lockdown due to the rise in COVID-19 cases. The virus has spread to every continent, apart from Antarctica and reached to 50 countries. But the vast majority of the deaths and infection are in China, which is the epicentre of the outbreak
As per the scientists at NASA, the reduction in levels of nitrogen dioxide, which is a noxious gas- emitted by the motor vehicles and factories, was first noticed in Wuhan city and then in other parts of China. NASA compared first two months of 2019 with the same period this year and found that the decline in the air pollution levels coincided with the restriction imposed on transportation and business activities in China while millions of Chinese people were going into quarantine during this health emergency situation.
NASA's take on this pollution decline
Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement that "This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event." In addition, she mentioned that a drop like this in the nitrogen dioxide levels in China was noticed during the economic recession in 2008, which is also known as the Great Recession but the decline happened gradually.
She said, "This year, the reduction rate is more significant than in past years and it has lasted longer. I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimise the spread of the virus."
China's air pollution history
In 1990, over 76 percent of all energy consumed in China was generated by coal, which is cheap but at the same time, it also produces a huge amount of pollution. Even though the percentage has fallen steadily over the past few decades, coal is still responsible for 59 percent of China's energy consumption in 2017.
As per a study by the Health Effects Institute revealed that unhealthy levels of PM2.5 led to roughly 852,000 premature deaths in China in 2017. Another study by the Health Effects Institute and Tsinghua University mentioned that coal-generated pollution was the most important contributor to ambient PM2.5 pollution in China, with premature deaths resulting from coal-burning totalling 366,000 in 2013.