Scientists say it is possible to maintain clean air last after COVID-19

Achieving net-zero emissions in California by 2050 can prevent thousands of deaths annually — in every community — researchers say.


The resriction on the movement of heavy vehicles due to the lockdown has improved the air quality.

But, there are concerns that once life returns to normal, there are chances that air pollution levels are likely to return to their prepandemic levels.

A team of UCLA researchers argues this does not have to be our fate.

In a new study, scientists discussed new strategies that could maintain improved air quality and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution by 2050.

Yifang Zhu, one of the study’s lead authors and a professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, said, “It doesn’t need to take a global pandemic to create cleaner air and healthier lives. Climate action directly benefits people at a local and regional scale by creating cleaner air. The public health benefits are both immediate and long-term, and we can save the economy billions each year.”

To control the global rise in temperature 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels by 2100, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that human-caused emissions will need to be reduced to nearly zero, and any remaining emissions will need to be captured and stored. This is known as net-zero emissions or carbon neutrality.

However, achieving this globally is no easy feat, but it is possible in California. Thus, the study has created the first-ever roadmap for the state using existing policies and technologies.

Study co-author Tony Wang, an engineer with the California Air Resources Board who recently received a doctorate in environmental science and engineering from UCLA, said“Nothing we are suggesting is science fiction, but it will take a lot more than what we’re doing now.”

Scientists, in collaboration with the UCLA Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering, have created a model to analyze how ambient air quality would change under a net-zero emissions scenario. They then combined that model with epidemiological data and information to estimate the impact of cleaner air on public health.

The outcomes are exhilarating- suggesting that almost 14,000 premature deaths could be prevented each year in California by 2050.

Scientists also found that achieving net-zero emissions could also:

  • Reduce acute respiratory symptoms in 8.4 million adults.
  • Reduce asthma exacerbation in 1 million children.
  • Decrease the number of lost work days by 1.4 million.
  • Decrease cardiovascular hospital admissions by 4,500.

Zhu said, “We were happy to see that when you cut down on these emissions, you bring disproportionately higher levels of air-quality benefits to disadvantaged communities.”

“Unlike the current COVID-19 crisis, achieving net-zero emissions post-pandemic would benefit the economy. By 2050, the monetary savings of greenhouse gas reductions will exceed the cost by $109 billion a year.”

Through this study, scientists want local policymakers to visualize how taking bold action on climate change will directly benefit people.

Journal Reference:
  1. Health co-benefits of achieving sustainable net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in California. DOI: 10.1038/s41893-020-0520-y
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