28 Feb 2023
 | 28 Feb 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion and under review for Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP).

Towards near-real time air pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions: lessons learned from multiple estimates during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Marc Guevara, Hervé Petetin, Oriol Jorba, Hugo Denier van der Gon, Jeroen Kuenen, Ingrid Super, Claire Granier, Thierno Doumbia, Philippe Ciais, Zhu Liu, Robin D. Lamboll, Sabine Schindlbacher, Bradley Matthews, and Carlos Pérez García-Pando

Abstract. The 2020 COVID-19 crisis caused an unprecedented drop in anthropogenic emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases. Given that emissions estimates from official national inventories for the year 2020 were not reported until two years later, new and non-traditional datasets to estimate near-real time emissions became particularly relevant and widely used in international monitoring and modelling activities during the pandemic. This study investigates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on 2020 European (the 27 EU Member States and the UK) emissions by comparing a selection of such near-real time emission estimates, with the official inventories that were subsequently reported in 2022 under the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Results indicate that annual changes in total 2020 emissions reported by official and near-real time estimates are fairly in line for most of the chemical species, with NOx and fossil fuel CO2 being reported as the ones that experienced the largest reduction in Europe in all cases. However, large discrepancies arise between the official and non-official datasets when comparing annual results at the sector and country level, indicating that caution should be exercised when estimating changes in emissions using specific near-real time activity datasets, such as time mobility data derived from smartphones. Main examples of these differences are observed for manufacturing industry NOx (relative changes ranging between -21.4 % and -5.4 %) and road transport CO2 (relative changes ranging between -29.3 % and 5.6 %) total European emissions. Additionally, significant discrepancies are observed between the quarterly and monthly distribution of emissions drops reported by the various near-real time inventories, with differences up to a factor of 1.5 for total NOx during April 2020, when restrictions were at their maximum. For residential combustion, shipping and public energy industry, results indicate that changes in emissions that occurred between 2019 and 2020 were mainly dominated by non-COVID-19 factors including meteorology, the implementation of the Global Sulphur Cap and the shutdown of coal-fired power plants as part of national decarbonization efforts, respectively. The potential increase in NMVOC emissions from the intensive use of personal protective equipment such as hand sanitizer gels is considered in a heterogeneous way across countries in official reported inventories, indicating the need for some countries to base their calculations on more advanced methods. The findings of this study can be used to better understand the uncertainties of near-real time emissions and how such emissions could be used in the future to provide timely updates to emission datasets that are critical for modelling and monitoring applications.

Marc Guevara et al.

Status: open (until 19 Apr 2023)

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Marc Guevara et al.


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Short summary
This study provides an inter-comparison of European 2020 emission changes derived from official inventories, which are reported by countries under the framework of several international conventions and directives, and non-official near-real time estimates, the use of which have significantly grown since the COVID-19 outbreak. The results of the work are used to produce recommendations on how best to approach and make use near-real time emissions for modelling and monitoring applications.