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Working from home under COVID restrictions this winter will increase harmful emissions, study finds

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New lockdowns are predicted to have a significant impact on emissions caused by staying at home this winter.


The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) says whilst emissions have dropped this year because we've been travelling less and doing less, the expected use of gas boilers to provide heating and hot water could rise by more than half.


Jess Ralston, author of the analysis for the ECIU, said: "This trajectory of working from home and having increased gas use in the home could be really critical for air pollution and also climate change. The way we heat our homes needs to change if we are to get to net zero by 2050."


Houses across England are predominantly heated by burning natural gas, which releases nitrous oxide (NOx) alongside CO2.


There are 21 million gas boilers across the country and currently less than 5% of homes are heated by low carbon sources.


Jake Oldershaw and his daughter Mollie from Birmingham have asthma. Mollie, 11, has required hospital treatment several times and uses an inhaler while Jake says he always finds breathing more difficult when there is heavy traffic.


Air quality has an enormous impact on their lives and both noticed a marked improvement during the spring lockdown.


Jake said: "During lockdown there was a noticeable difference in air quality. I didn't suffer any asthmatic affects during that period. These days you can feel the effects.


"Obviously we don't want lockdown again but if people considered the environmental and health benefits that were definitely there, then tried to continue those and make a change it would be better than returning to hold habits."


Mollie has also noticed a change on her bike rides to school. "When I'm cycling now and there's more cars, I feel it in my lungs. It blocks my lungs up a bit more, and makes it harder to breathe. It's not a very nice feeling."


Heating accounts for nearly 37% of the UK's total carbon emissions. Modelling by the ECIU suggests a 56% increase in boiler usage this winter resulting in a 12% increase in emissions of NOx.


The ECIU estimates that's enough to offset the last two years' worth of progress on reducing traffic emissions.


Environmentalists say strategies to reduce emissions from transport are being implemented but not enough is being done to decarbonise the significant impact of heating.


Jess Ralston said: "The increase in pollution from gas boilers expected this winter provides a graphic illustration of their forgotten role in air pollution. And it is a role set to continue without practical policies to decarbonise home heating."



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'gas boiler usage during winter will cause 12% increase in emissions of NOx'

Yes. But the pandemic has lowered CO2 emissions by average 17% (range 11%-25%) during forced covid-19 confinement. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0797-x


Overall a nonscientific generic wash in pollution (obviously NOx is different from CO2), essentially returning to an overall "normal" state of emissions in the winter. 

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