Coronavirus: UAE reports big drop in air pollution during pandemic

Government officials report 30 per cent fall in nitrogen dioxide emissions due to travel restrictions

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 2, 2020.  The Abu Dhabi Corniche as the sun sets on Saturday.
Victor Besa / The National
Section:  NA
For:  Standalone / Stock images

Air pollution has fallen dramatically across the country over the past few months due to travel restrictions reducing emissions during the coronavirus outbreak.

There was a 30 per cent reduction in nitrogen dioxide levels between February and April, according to the latest figures published by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment.

The decline in toxic fumes released into the air by vehicles in the three months ranged from 10 per cent to 71 per cent, depending on the area of the country.

“Due to the slowdown of all activities as part of the response to the pandemic, the world is seeing a considerable reduction in air pollution,” said Aisha Al Abdooli, director of the Green Development and Environment Affairs Department at the ministry.

“The ministry closely monitors air quality in the country through its 52 stations and AI lab.

“Overall, the average reduction across the country between February 1 and April 30 amounted to 30 per cent.”

In large quantities, nitrogen dioxide fumes can cause lung damage and respiratory problems.

Air quality readings show the UAE has enjoyed a noticeable improvement in 2019 with more “green days” recorded, where concentration of pollutants are low.

Last year, 81 per cent of days were considered “green” compared with 71 per cent in 2018.

In February, the ministry published online the first national-level inventory of nationwide emissions.

Clearer skies have been seen across the globe due to the considerable drop off in air and road traffic, while industry was also scaled back.

If governments decide to go back to the status quo after the end of the outbreak, and ignore the risks of climate change, transition to cleaner energy will slow down

As nations begin to reopen borders and businesses, pollution is also returning to cities around the world.

Last week, Minister Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi said recent improvements to air quality could be lost to a haze of "revenge pollution" as industries returned to normal operations.

In a research paper published online, he said the Covid-19 pandemic should act as “a wake-up call” for “greater global collective action”.

“If governments decide to go back to the status quo after the end of the outbreak, and ignore the risks of climate change, transition to cleaner energy will slow down,” the authors wrote.

To counter that, UAE ministers are developing an air quality strategy to further improve air quality from 2021, while officials in Dubai have signed up to the C40 Clean Air Cities Declaration.

The pledge aims to slash air pollution by 2025 by converting half its taxi fleet to hybrid and electric vehicles by next year.

High polluting buses on the road will also be replaced with low emission alternatives to reduce energy use and Dubai’s carbon footprint.

Other national measures include a commitment in Abu Dhabi to exchange government vehicles from petrol to those using compressed natural gas.

And in Fujairah, the municipality’s air quality monitoring network will include industrial facilities for closer monitoring of emissions.


Gallery: Coronavirus in the UAE