It’s been an enormous natural experiment.
As Covid-19 lockdown measures brought business and travel to a standstill, scientists at University College Cork have been using these extraordinary weeks to put together the first full picture of the impact of restrictions on Ireland’s pollution levels.
When normal life was stopped in its tracks in March, there were some immediate effects. For example, each week the school run requires Irish parents to drive a staggering seven million kilometres, emitting an estimated 1200 tonnes of CO2 emissions – those were removed for a start.
Now researchers at MaREI, the SFI research centre in energy, climate and marine at UCC have examined Ireland’s pollution level prior to lockdown measures and compared it with those levels during the lockdown.
These are a few of their findings:
- In Ireland, the average commuter spends 28.2 minutes driving to work, so roughly one hour per day there and back. That means for every week we are in lockdown people will reclaim five hours that would have otherwise been spent stuck in their car.
- Nine out of 10 flights have been cancelled since restrictions commenced. If flight restrictions continue, it would be the equivalent of switching off Moneypoint coal-fired power station for six months.
- At home, every day is the weekend, as our electricity usage pattern now replicates a weekend demand profile seven days a week.
- The EPA have reported a decrease in concentrations of up to 50% of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NO2) at many monitoring stations across the National Air Quality Monitoring Network. NO2 has been linked to increased levels of lung conditions ranging from asthma and bronchitis to respiratory-related hospital admissions and emergency room visits.
“Covid-19 Lockdown measures across the globe are creating a natural experiment for climate and energy researchers to observe how extreme demand scenarios can drive large scale fossil fuel demand destruction and collapse oil market prices,” said UCC researcher, Dr James Glynn.
“By exploring the impact these restrictions are having on Ireland’s pollution levels, we are also seeking to understand feasible actions to mitigate climate change,”
“We need to make long-term, equitable and sustainable changes to our lifestyles, to our economy and to our energy system. Climate change mitigation is a marathon event requiring rapid and sustained steady changes in how we consume energy.”