Cape Town - While the decreased demand for petroleum and the correlating decrease in traffic since the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic have had an adverse effect on the petroleum industry, air quality experts revealed that reduced traffic volumes positively impacted the environment through a degree of improved air quality.
Mayco member for community services and health Patricia van der Ross said: “Anecdotal observations during the hard lockdown suggest reduced traffic volumes did positively impact on the intensity of the visible brown haze that we experience over Cape Town from time to time, especially during the winter months of 2020.”
However, Van der Ross said the monitoring data for Cape Town was inconclusive.
The changes in ambient air quality across the city were variable over the past two years and Van der Ross said this was due to a number of factors, not only linked to the pandemic but a variety of others, including the different climatic conditions over Cape Town during the summer and winter months as well as the fact that massive industrial emitters such as the Astron Energy Refinery have been inoperative since 2020.
In addition, Van der Ross said changes in transport-related emissions were also impacted by the deteriorating public transport over time.
Provincial department of environmental affairs and development planning spokesperson, Rudolf van Jaarsveldt said air quality concentrations measured at all 12 of the Western Cape’s Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Stations were generally below the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
“The changes seen were primarily related to changes in traffic patterns and people not commuting to and from work during the Covid-19 pandemic (particularly during level 5 of the lockdown),” Van Jaarsveldt said.
A study published in the Environment International journal co-ordinated by the World Meteorological Organisation’s Global Atmospheric Watch programme, offered an international observational analysis to understand changes in air quality during the Covid-19 pandemic period of exceptionally low emissions – which coincided with feedback from provincial and local governments on air quality.
“The restrictions on mobility experienced during 2020 presented an opportunity to accelerate and adapt to different modes of work (e-working) and commute (increased use of bicycles) and to supplement the move towards lower-emission transports,” the study said.
The study illustrated that broader socio-economic strategies could be implemented to further control air pollutant emissions in cities and meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11 – to create sustainable cities and communities by 2030.