Air pollution poses a significant risk to health. It kills about 7 million people per year and is responsible for one third of all stroke, lung cancer and heart attack deaths. More than 90 per cent of the world's population lives in areas where the WHO standards for outdoor air quality are not met, and about two-thirds of this pollution is caused by fossil fuel burning, which also drives climate change.
Efforts to regulate COVID-19 transmission have decreased economic activity and, in some regions, resulted in temporary improvements in air quality. By comparison, since carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses that drive climate change remain in the environment for a long time, temporary emission reductions have only a small impact on atmospheric concentrations.
In the first months of 2020, carbon dioxide concentrations at observation stations around the world were higher than in 2019. Environmental gains resulting from the COVID-19 response may be reversed by a rapid expansion of polluting economic activities once the steps are finished, unless a strong emphasis is put on fostering fairness, environmental health, and a just transition to a green economy.Any short-term environmental benefits arising from COVID-19 would result in unsustainable human and economic costs. And they are no substitute for expected, sustained air quality and climate action.