By Monica Bonfanti
An acronym composed of 5 different words is changing the safety and the economic order of the whole world. These five letters do not differentiate rich and poor, developed, developing or least developing states. This acronym befell first China, then South Korea, Iran, Italy, Spain, France and gradually, the rest of the world. At the end of March, an acronym that has made more than 450.000 people ill, killed more than 21.000 people and is destroying economies as it marches on.
It is a real disaster that has obliged the worldwide population to change their behaviours, reducing their individual freedom of movement to help each other to fight this new invisible enemy. The new motto is "stay at home to stay safe". Hard to do but necessary to protect the local, regional, national and worldwide system and to pass value forward to future generations.
In Italy, the number of active COVID-19 cases and deaths surpassed China -mid March. Amid emergency actions to lock down the entire nation, everything - from schools and shops, to restaurants and even some churches - is closed. The government asked industries to adopt smart working, that is to work from home. Not all jobs can be done from home and this decision will significantly impact Italy’s GDP.
However, despite this mourning scenario, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Freedom of movement has been limited but the subsequent ‘shutdown’ has generated a silver lining. Indeed, efforts made by the citizens to stay at home to avoid spreading the virus and the associated slowing of industry has produced a massive reduction of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels during the lockdown.
Though observed first in China, in Italy, the reduction trend of about 10% per week over the last four to five weeks has been confirmed by surface observations from the EU’s Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service. Surface ozone measurements at the Global Atmosphere Watch station of Monte Cimone, which dominates the Po Valley in northern Italy, also show a decrease in March 2020, according to raw data. It is too early to draw firm conclusions on the significance of this for greenhouse gas concentrations over time and on the global climate emergency in general, but it is a starting point on which the global climate leadership could build.
It is time to keep the momentum, to demonstrate the same commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by adapting some of the measures that have slowed the spread of COVID-19 and which may also cement changes that have helped to reduce some GHG emissions. To avoid the collapse of the financial system of Italy and of other states affected by the virus through economic closures, the EU through the GCCA+ and other programs including international and regional cooperation programmes, could help countries to quickly lock-in similar transitions that involve more working from home and less travel, along with cleaner energy and infrastructure.
This pandemic has strengthened the understanding of each citizen that their actions count and impact others’ wellbeing. If adequately supported, a disaster like the one we are experiencing can be transformed into a new era where nitrogen dioxide emissions across the world could decrease as per the current trends, demonstrating how an environmental oriented approach to economic activities can impact on the environment positively.
Monica Bonfanti is the GCCA+ Support Facility Mitigation expert
The content does not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Commission