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COVID-19 lockdown has proven that it’s possible to achieve dramatic air quality improvements – technology has to be the force to help sustain it

Freddie Talberg, Co-Founder, EMSOL, considers the impact that lockdown has ad on air quality

The results of extensive, global social distancing due to COVID-19 has proven that dramatic air pollution reduction is possible in a very short amount of time – there has been an unprecedented increase in air quality around the world in under 45 days. In the UK, from a drastic fall in pollution across London, to clean air in Dundee – the effects are nationwide. According to recent analysis, some cities have seen nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels fall by up to 60% compared to the same period last year.

In just a couple of weeks, the changes have been drastic. With social distancing and only essential travel, we’ve seen a decrease in road traffic across the UK by 73% – reaching levels not seen since 1955 and in turn drastically improving air quality. We then have to draw our attention to question whether air quality will plummet as we venture out of quarantine, get back to our normal transport centric routines, take a train journey or fly off on holiday once more? As we continue to manage the risk of COVID-19 downward, things may return to normal and pollution levels will rise once again to unacceptable levels.

The world has changed beyond recognition but what it has done is shine a bright light on the climate crisis. Air pollution is of course, one aspect to this challenge but one which we can see is possible to reverse through global intervention. It is one of the more detrimental effects of living unsustainably, as we were only a month ago.

Polluted air affects us all. In recent years, there have been several studies on air quality and the effects it has on people’s health. Currently, there is vital research being carried out on the link between air pollution and the potential impact this has had on the spread of COVID-19. A similar study was conducted in 2003, which concluded that victims of SARS (another strand of the coronavirus) in regions with moderate air pollution levels were 84% more likely to die than those in regions with low air pollution. These are statistics we should not ignore.

So what is the solution? We can’t suggest that everyone lives the rest of their lives without leaving their houses, without taking trains, without flying and without driving. Instead, we need to turn our heads to innovation and creativity in the form of technology and data driven solutions.

Air quality monitors have been around for a few years and they have been quietly delivering data to the few who paid attention. Today, with significant technology advancements, this air quality data can be paired with other, more actionable data. Now is the time for our policy makers and leaders to really pay attention and invest. They can no longer ignore the link between air pollution and the devastating effects it has on our healthcare as a nation.

So how do they work? Using multiple input sources, from satellites to meteorological data and sensors, data scientists can then build accurate models that represent air quality in real time.

This new environmental intelligence will allow our government to pinpoint hotspots for pollution and put in place measurements to ease the pressure. Moreover, growth and development needs to start back up and this new information will help companies in the private sector grow, while adhering to and managing their sustainable development goals. A good example of this would be within the construction industry, where they can measure and accurately understand the sources of their emissions, as well as taking appropriate tech-led action to reduce them.

For individuals, the output from these sensors combined with other data have no limit. They will be able to help people gauge when to exercise during the day, when the best time to go to the supermarket is (especially during our current lockdown situation) and it will help people protect their children from inhaling noxious gases on micro-levels.

COVID-19 can be more than a wake up call. It can be a turning point for the nation to reverse its impact on air pollution and monitor it going forward. By using monitors and science, we will find a way forward for growth and development aligned with a healthier population.