UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Saving the world from your couch : the heterogeneous medium-run benefits of COVID-19 lockdowns on air pollution Bonardi, Jean-Philippe; Gallea, Quentin; Kalanoski, Dimitrija; Lalive, Rafael; Madhok, Raahil; Noack, Frederik; Rohner, Dominic; Sonno, Tommaso


In Spring 2020, COVID-19 led to an unprecedented halt in public and economic life across the globe. In an otherwise tragic time, this provides a unique natural experiment to investigate the environmental impact of such a (temporary) ‘de-globalization’. Here, we estimate the medium-run impact of a battery of COVID-19 related lockdown measures on air quality across 162 countries, going beyond the existing short-run estimates from a limited number of countries. In doing so, we leverage a new dataset categorizing lockdown measures and tracking their implementation and release, extending to 31 August 2020. We find that domestic and international lockdown measures overall led to a decline in PM2.5 pollution by 45% and 35%, respectively. This substantial impact persists in the medium-run, even as lockdowns are lifted, there is, however, substantial heterogeneity across different types of lockdown measures, different countries, and different sources of pollution. We show that some country trajectories are much more appealing (with fewer COVID-19 casualties, less economic downturn and bigger pollution reductions) than others. Our results have important policy implications and highlight the potential to ‘build back better’ a sustainable economy where pollution can be curbed in a less economically costly way than during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Attribution 4.0 International