Edinburgh climate expert predicts emissions may never again rise to pre-lockdown levels

Climate expert says the coronavirus pandemic may have a positive effect on the environment.

Stock Image. Professor Reay says carbon emissions may never rise again to pre-lockdown levels.

Climate experts have hailed the decrease in harmful emissions across the world due to the coronavirus pandemic but now an Edinburgh climate expert has predicted that emission levels may never go back to how they were before.

In St John’s Road in Edinburgh alone, research shows that NOx levels – a chemical compound most commonly related to vehicle exhaust fumes and power plant emissions – have fallen by 76%, according to the BBC Shared Data Unit.

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Prof Dave Reay, climate change expert at Edinburgh University, has been looking closely at the findings and has come to an optimistic conclusion.

Prof Reay said: “Climate scientists are worried emissions might bounce back up to where they were before or higher if governments invest in getting economies going by directing money to fossil fuel heavy industries or doing it without a regard to climate change.

“But across Europe and definitely in Scotland the narrative is very much that all of that new economy investment stimulus packages linked with tackling climate change gives us the opportunity to deal with the short term as well as long term impacts of Covid.

“Emissions will bounce back up to a certain extent but they won’t go back to the levels they were before because we’ve worked out better ways of working and travelling.”

Prof Reay outlines what the city should do in the coming months and years for recent improvements to have any lasting impact, particularly regarding international arts events and the Leith Cruise Port.

Prof Reay said: “Luxury cruises aren’t the most environmentally friendly way to go on holiday but that industry may contract massively due to less ships coming in and out. For Leith Port, this may have a knock on effect on jobs across city.

“If we’re going to avoid job losses across all sectors, then we need to look at job opportunities that align with climate change so creating green jobs, training in green skills, renewable energy and electrical vehicles and making Edinburgh the capital of green tourism.

“We will probably end up with a hybrid format for our festivals where we have some people social distancing in Edinburgh but ensuring the event is streamed live worldwide. If we get it right, you get accessibility and engagement with way more people than we would’ve done before Covid.”

As Scotland marks a year on from declaring a climate emergency, although the changes are reassuring, the alternative if we don’t take action may just be even more sobering.

Prof Reay said: “What Covid-19 has shown is how vulnerable we are to nature. We aren’t separate from it, we’re a part of it.

“Climate change doesn’t respect borders and neither does coronavirus. We need to work with it to give ourselves more resilience as species so things like this are less likely to happen.”


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