China’s air pollution overshoots pre-crisis levels for the first time

Levels of health-harming air pollutants in China have exceeded concentrations at the same time last year in the past 30 days, for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. This includes PM2.5, NO2, SO2 and ozone. Air pollutant levels plummeted during the national lockdown in February, bottomed out in early March and have now overshot their pre-crisis levels. The rebound appears to be driven by industrial emissions, as the pollution levels in the largest cities, Beijing and Shanghai, are still trailing below last year. More broadly, pollution levels tended to increase more in areas where coal-burning is a larger source of pollution. Ozone levels are close to the record level of 2018. Rebounding air pollutant levels are a demonstration of the importance of prioritizing green economy and clean energy in the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. All eyes are on China, as the first major economy to return to work after a lockdown. China’s previous economic recoveries, including the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and the SARS epidemic of 2003, have been associated with surges in air pollution and CO2 emissions.