Increase in air pollution in Europe’s cities as lockdowns ease

Paris has largest rebound in Europe for emissions of nitrogen dioxide 

Rory Sullivan
Wednesday 24 June 2020 15:13 BST
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Air pollution levels in some European cities have increased significantly since lockdown eased, raising concerns that the environmental improvements experienced in recent months will not last.

Data from the European Environment Agency shows that cities including Milan and Paris have seen a sharp rise in emissions of nitrogen dioxide following the lows seen during lockdown.  

After several months of little traffic, commuters in these and other European cities have been returning to work, often choosing to use their cars rather than public transport. 

Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) who authored a report on the data, told the Financial Times: “It is definitely a huge challenge that we are seeing pollution volumes at or near pre-Covid-19 levels, even though in many cities traffic volumes are below pre-crisis levels.

“We risk getting pre-crisis levels of congestion and pollution already, before full economic reopening,” he added.

Paris has had the largest rebound of any city in Europe, with its nitrogen dioxide emissions rising from a lockdown low of 13.6 to 29.7 micrograms per cubic metre. The figures are based on a month-long average. 

Much the same picture emerged in Brussels and Milan, where pollution levels increased by 14.2 and 13.9 micrograms per cubic metre respectively after strict Covid-19 lockdowns were lifted. 

However, the CREA data shows that the pollution figures are still lower than they were this time last year. 

It remains to be seen whether temporary measures to encourage pedestrians and cyclists, which have been implemented in cities across Europe, will become permanent. 

Concerns about the increase in pollution come as car use in cities across Europe continues to edge upwards.   

According to the traffic-tracking website TomTom, congestion in London has risen steadily in recent weeks as coronavirus restrictions were gradually relaxed. 

TomTom estimated that last week congestion stood at 21 per cent on average in the capital, a large increase from the 8 per cent recorded there in the first week of April. 

Among other policy recommendations made in its report on air pollution, CREA said authorities should electrify public transport and get high-emitting vehicles off the road.  

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