The latest lockdown had less impact on air pollution than the first, according to researchers at the University of York.
During the spring 2020 UK lockdown, a reduction in air pollution was widely reported, with nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels decreasing by an average of 52%.
However, new analysis has shown that in the lockdown that started in January 2021, NO2 decreased by just 28%.
Greater disparities between the lockdowns were observed in large urban areas, such as Leeds and London.
In the winter lockdown, NO2 levels dropped by 25% in Leeds and 30% in London compared to a much larger decrease of 59% in both last spring.
The researchers have highlighted that both cities have large workforces who are most likely working from home, thus increasing the domestic emission footprint and causing smaller changes in air pollution.
Rhianna Evans, co-author of the study said: ‘Despite restrictions being similar, it seems the impact of the winter lockdown reduced pollution less due to factors like people working from home and therefore using more heating and others who were going into work starting cars in colder conditions which creates more pollution.
‘It is important to consider this diversity of sources for future reductions in air pollution. The winter lockdown scenario where these domestic sectors made up a greater proportion of total NO 2 sources shows that a shift in society’s behavioural patterns can produce pollution from other sources.’
Dr Will Drysdale added: ‘This change in behaviour may mimic future scenarios where emissions from road transport continue to decline, either through uptake of electric vehicles or work patterns including a greater remote component. It is worth examining as we look forward on how we continue to improve air quality.
‘The key difference in the winter is the weather. Air pollution is heavily influenced by this, for example concentrations are lower on windy days, as it spreads out more. The model we have used takes this kind of effect into account however. In this case the colder temperatures influence our activity, which in turn leads to us emitting more. This seems to have muted the reductions from lockdown this time around.’
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