At least the pandemic has been good for something.
A new Concordia University study found the amount of air pollution in Montreal saw a sharp decrease in early 2020. That improvement coincided with the huge drop in the number of cars on the road.
Researchers compared emission levels in March and April 2020 with the same time periods in 2019.
“The traffic congestion decreased around 60 to 75 per cent in Toronto and Montreal, respectively,” explained Xuelin Tian, a master’s student at Concordia who led the research.
They found the amount of carbon dioxide in the air generated by gas consumption dropped by more than 50 per cent in April 2020 compared to April 2019. Other harmful gases also saw significant decreases. The same was true in other Canadian cities.
“We can improve drastically the quality of the air we breathe by reducing the amount of cars in the streets,” said Dr. Claudel Pétrin-Desrosiers of the Quebec Association of Doctors for the Environment.
The researchers found emissions increased as soon as the summer hit and things started opening up.
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“It’s sort of a short picture in time, right? It shows us that in the beginning of the lockdown, the air quality was better,” Pétrin-Desrosiers said.
To some experts, the study only underlines the extraordinary amount of hard work needed to improve air quality and reduce emissions long term.
“I think it’s an opportune moment to reassess fossil fuel production and how we’re going to start doing a managed wind-down of that industry in the coming years,” said Sabaa Khan, Quebec director of the David Suzuki Foundation.
The government has made grand promises to move away from fossil fuels and encourage the use of electric vehicles in the coming years. The researchers hope their study shows what a world without gas-burning cars can look like.
“We’ll see either growth in fossil fuel production back to pre-pandemic levels in some jurisdictions, and in others, hopefully, we’ll see an acceleration towards the clean energy transition,” said Khan.