World Environment Day, which is celebrated on 5 June annually, and focuses on biodiversity, is particularly significant as climate change has become the most pressing issue for the global community today. Its widespread effects and consequences are already seen in our daily lives.
Changing weather patterns threaten food production and rising water levels increase the risk of catastrophic floods or irreversible changes in major ecosystems. They may also affect health, agriculture, economy, society, and biodiversity among others.
The outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and the consequent lockdowns, and cessation of air travel and transportation, has seen a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions around the world. Before the pandemic, global emissions were expected to increase by at least 1% this year.
Available satellite images from Nasa of selected countries, including the UAE, as well as mobility data reports generated by Apple Inc, show that the UAE exhibits similar trends of declining emissions of nitrogen dioxide. This is seen in satellite images which compare the month of April 2019 and April 2020
But the question remains: Are the continuous emission reductions on this scale enough to prevent global temperatures from rising above pre-Industrial Revolution temperatures as stipulated in the 2015 Paris Agreement to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030?
It is clear that people staying at home is in the interest of Planet Earth. This may lead us to say that despite the current pandemic, the consequent restrictions on unnecessary travel and transportation and imposing full closures in some countries have enabled us to see positive changes in Earth’s climate.
Decline in Nitrogen Dioxide
Satellite images published by Nasa and the European Space Agency, show a decline in nitrogen dioxide emissions in China in January and February during the quarantine period. These emissions are mostly caused by the use of fossil fuels.
To date, over 6,7 million Covid-19 cases have been reported globally and the death toll has exceeded 393,000 since the beginning of the spread on 31 December 2019. The UAE reported its first Covid-19 cases on 16 January 2020 after which the government kept a close watch over the situation in order to reduce the spread.
Aligned with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) announcement of characterising the virus as a pandemic and similar to global efforts in crisis management; the UAE decided to issue an order of movement restriction in the form of the National Disinfection Programme.
A number of countries have reported a decline in observed pollutants and Greenhouse Gases (GHG) as they have entered into partial or full lockdown mode. Studies investigating satellite images of various indicators of air quality such as nitrogen dioxide have reported an average decline of 40%-50% in the USA and China.
Those emissions are normally associated with economic activities and are fundamentally related to transportation, power generation and industrial manufacturing.
Global energy demand down
The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported a decline in the global energy demand by 3.8% during the first quarter of 2020 and expects it to continue declining till 6%. IEA also predicts the most significant year-on-year reduction in CO2 emissions ever of 8%.
Available satellite images from Nasa of selected countries, including the UAE, as well as mobility data reports generated by Apple Inc, show that the UAE exhibits similar trends of declining emissions of nitrogen dioxide. This is seen in satellite images which compare the month of April 2019 and April 2020.
In the UAE, the observed results of reduction coincide with the National Disinfection Programme, which controlled the mobility of individuals within the country as illustrated in Apple’s mobility data chart for the UAE.
The findings illustrated in the report attached were found to be a decently high-level representation of the expected Covid-19 environmental impact on the UAE.
Studying the sectoral pollutants and GHG emissions can potentially add further insights for detailed and localised impact and analysis. Related data from competent stakeholders such as Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), and Dubai Municipality among others will quantify the potential impact.
Furthermore, collaboration with Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) could be enhanced to investigate and develop potential methods of monitoring (by satellite imaging and remote sensing) various air pollutants and GHG emissions such as nitrogen dioxide or carbon dioxide emitted from Dubai’s various economic activities.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasise that the positive change the Earth’s climate is witnessing and the resulting effects on the environment, require extensive action from governments and countries.
It also requires taking comprehensive and wide-ranging measures to exchange information about changes in the carbon footprint and emissions, for a bright future in which our future generations enjoy a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.
— Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer is the vice-chairman of the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy. He is the MD and CEO of DEWA