The Emissions Impact of Coronavirus Lockdowns, As Shown by Satellites
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The Emissions Impact of Coronavirus Lockdowns, As Shown by Satellites

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NO2 Emissions China Italy

The Emissions Impact of Coronavirus Lockdowns

There’s a high chance you’re reading this while practicing social distancing, or while your corner of the world is under some type of advised or enforced lockdown.

While these are necessary measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, such economic interruption is unprecedented in many ways—resulting in some surprising side effects.

The Evidence is in NO₂ Emissions

Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) emissions, a major air pollutant, are closely linked to factory output and vehicles operating on the road.

As both industry and transport come to a halt during this pandemic, NO₂ emissions can be a good indicator of global economic activity—and the changes are visible from space.

These images from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), as well as satellite footage from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), show a drastic decline in NO₂ emissions over recent months, particularly across Italy and China.

NO₂ Emissions Across Italy

In Italy, the number of active COVID-19 cases has surpassed China (including the death toll). Amid emergency actions to lock down the entire nation, everything from schools and shops, to restaurants and even some churches, are closed.

Italy is also an industrial hub, with the sector accounting for nearly 24% of GDP. With many Italians urged to work from home if possible, visible economic activity has dropped considerably.

This 10-day moving average animation (from January 1st—March 11th, 2020) of nitrogen dioxide emissions across Europe clearly demonstrates how the drop in Italy’s economic activity has impacted the environment.


Source: European Space Agency (ESA)

That’s not all: a drop in boat traffic also means that Venice’s canals are clear for the time being, as small fish have begun inhabiting the waterways again. Experts are cautious to note that this does not necessarily mean the water quality is better.

NO₂ Emissions Across China

The emissions changes above China are possibly even more obvious to the eye. China is the world’s most important manufacturing hub and a significant contributor to greenhouse gases globally. But in the month following Lunar New Year (a week-long festival in early February), satellite imagery painted a different picture.

no2 emissions wuhan china
Source: NASA Earth Observatory

NO₂ emissions around the Hubei province, the original epicenter of the virus, steeply dropped as factories were forced to shutter their doors for the time being.

What’s more, there were measurable effects in the decline of other emission types from the drop in coal use during the same time, compared to years prior.

China Coal Use FInal

Back to the Status Quo?

In recent weeks, China has been able to flatten the curve of its total COVID-19 cases. As a result, the government is beginning to ease its restrictions—and it’s clear that social and economic activities are starting to pick back up in March.


Source: European Space Agency (ESA)

With the regular chain of events beginning to resume, it remains to be seen whether NO₂ emissions will rebound right back to their pre-pandemic levels.

This bounce-back effect—which can sometimes reverse any overall drop in emissions—is [called] “revenge pollution”. And in China, it has precedent.

Li Shuo, Senior climate policy advisor, Greenpeace East Asia

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Agriculture

Ranked: The World’s Top Cotton Producers

As the most-used natural fiber, cotton has become the most important non-food agricultural product.

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Ranked: The World’s Top Cotton Producers

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Cotton is present in our everyday life, from clothes to coffee strainers, and more recently in masks to control the spread of COVID-19.

As the most-used natural fiber, cotton has become the most important non-food agricultural product. Currently, approximately half of all textiles require cotton fibers.

The above infographic lists the world’s top cotton producers, using data from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Fancy Fabric

Originating from the Arabic word “quton,” meaning fancy fabric, cotton is a staple fiber made up of short fibers twisted together to form yarn.

The earliest production of cotton was around 5,000 B.C. in India, and today, around 25 million tons of cotton are produced each year.

Currently, five countries make up around 75% of global cotton production, with China being the world’s biggest producer. The country is responsible for over 23% of global production, with approximately 89 million cotton farmers and part-time workers. Cotton’s importance cannot be understated, as it is the primary input for the Chinese textile industry along with many other nations’ textile industries.

Top Cotton Producers2020/2021 (metric tons)2021/2022 (metric tons)
🇨🇳 China 6,445,0005,835,000
🇮🇳 India6,009,0005,334,000
🇺🇸 United States3,181,0003,815,000
🇧🇷 Brazil2,356,0002,504,000
🇦🇺 Australia610,0001,252,000
🇵🇰 Pakistan 980,0001,306,000
🇹🇷 Turkey631,000827,000
🌐 Other 4,059,0004,282,000
Total24,271,00025,155,000

The United States is the leading global exporter of cotton, exporting three-fourths of its crop with China as the top buyer.

Despite its importance for the global economy, cotton production faces significant sustainability challenges.

The Controversy Over Cotton

Cotton is one of the largest users of water among all agricultural commodities, and production often involves applying pesticides that threaten soil and water quality.

Along with this, production often involves forced and child labor. According to the European Commission, child labor in the cotton supply chain is most common in Africa and Asia, where it comes from small-holder farmers.

In 2020, U.S. apparel maker Patagonia stopped sourcing cotton from the autonomous territory of Xinjiang because of reports about forced labor and other human rights abuses against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities.

L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, has also committed to eliminating Chinese cotton from its supply chain. Whether these changes in supply chains impact China’s cotton production and its practices, cotton remains essential to materials found across our daily lives.

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Agriculture

Mapped: Where Does Our Food Come From?

Did you know that over two-thirds of national crops originated from somewhere else? Over time the food that built national diets has evolved.

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The following content is sponsored by Brazil Potash

Where Does Our Food Come From?

Did you know that over two-thirds of national crops originated from somewhere else?

Humans have been selecting and growing crops for specific traits since the origins of agriculture some 10,000 years ago, shaping where and what crops are grown today.

Now our food system is completely global and many of the world’s top producers of staple crops are in countries far from their historical origin. For example, Brazil is now the largest soybean producer in the world, though the crop is originally from East Asia.

The above infographic by Brazil Potash shows the historical origins of crops before they were domesticated across the globe and the main producers of our staple crops today.

Producers Of Staple Crops Today

Staple crops are those that are the most routinely grown and consumed. These can vary between countries depending on availability.

In 2020, sugarcane, maize, wheat, and rice made up around 50% of global crop production.

But when the production and distribution of staple crops are threatened, the consequences can be felt globally. Let’s take a look at the countries that were the top three producers of some of our staple crops in 2020.

CropCountryPercentage of Global Production
Sugar Cane 🇧🇷Brazil 40.5%
Sugar Cane🇮🇳India 19.9%
Sugar Cane🇨🇳China 5.8%
Maize🇺🇸U.S. 30.9%
Maize🇨🇳China 22.4%
Maize🇧🇷Brazil 8.9%
Wheat 🇨🇳China 17.6%
Wheat🇮🇳India14.1%
Wheat🇷🇺Russia11.3%

As you can see from the data above, Brazil is the world’s largest producer of sugarcane and one of the top three producers of maize.

The Future of Food Security

Global food security depends on staple crops and the countries that produce them. As the global population increases, so does the need to grow more crops.

The FAO estimates that by 2050 the world will need to increase its food output by around 70% in order to feed an ever-growing population.

Early food security solutions were transplanting crops from other regions to supplement diets. Now crop yields must increase as the next evolution in strengthening our food security. Fertilizers are a vital step in this process and are an essential ingredient in the future of global food security. They provide vital nutrients that increase crop production and strengthen nutrition security.

Brazil Potash extracts vital potash ore from the earth for it to return to the earth as fertilizer, fortifying food and helping to maintain continuous growth in the agricultural sector.

Click here to learn more about fertilizer and food production in Brazil.

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