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Coronavirus Updated: 25 Mar 2020

Coronavirus quarantine causes pollution levels to decline

One of the paradoxical consequences of the global crisis triggered by the COVID-19 is its impact on the environment. The quarantine is causing sharp declines in pollutant emissions across the world’s most populated cities.

A variety of papers and satellite images published a few weeks ago already underscored that, as of March 1, the coronavirus crisis had already caused China’s carbon emissions to drop by 25 percent — about 200 million tons.  Last week, the European Space Agency (ESA) released images showing the dramatic decline in pollutant concentrations — including nitrogen dioxide— over the north of Italy.

Coronavirus NO2 emissions drop over Italy - | European Space Agency, ESA

ESA’s time-lapse video, captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, shows how emissions of nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants evolved between January 1, 2020 and March 11, 2020. The red spots hovering over the map of Europe represent nitrogen dioxide concentrations. As the video plays, the spots start decreasing noticeably, particularly over the North of Italy, the hardest-hit region, and the first one in the country to go into lockdown. These emissions are basically the result of fuel combustion in transport and power generation, especially in coal-fired power plants.

In Spain, according to a report by Greenpeace, traffic in Madrid and Barcelona, the two largest cities in the country, dropped by 60% during the first days of the state of alarm, resulting in a sharp decline in pollution levels. Vehicles are the main source of emissions in Spain. Thus, median NO2 levels, caused mainly by diesel engine activity, dropped below the 40 percent limit established by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Union (EU) as safe for humans.

Tables based on data provided by the Madrid and Barcelona City Councils - Greenpeace

Pollution levels will likely continue to drop while the current measures remain in place in the countries hardest hit by the pandemic. Many companies have stopped operations, while others have instructed their workers to work from home in as far as possible.

At BBVA, approximately 90 percent of employees in central services across all geographies are already telecommuting, while the number of people working at branches is limited to the requirements set by applicable regulations. In Spain, for example, 90 percent of its branch network employees are working remotely and thus contribute to ensure the provision of essential banking services. Also, less than half of the branch offices remain open, with 17 percent of their staff.

BBVA significantly reduced its environmental footprint in 2019

Nevertheless, BBVA continues striving to deliver on its commitment to fight climate change and reduce its environmental footprint. In first place, by reducing its impacts through the Global Eco-efficiency Plan. In this sense, the bank has implemented measures to address different dimensions of the environmental challenge, including environmental management at buildings, energy and climate change, water, paper and waste, and awareness raising campaigns. In second place, the bank is working to offset the emissions that can’t be curbed with the aforementioned measures, and has pledged to become carbon neutral in 2020.

The evolution of the Group’s environmental footprint in 2019 was very positive compared to 2018, with 8 percent per capita reductions carbon emissions (using the market based method —emissions that take into account renewable energy purchases—)  , as well as cuts in consumption rates of 5 percent in electricity, 23 percent in water and 19 percent in paper,  As for consumption of renewable energy, the rate remained at 39 percent, and the percentage of people working in environmentally-certified buildings rose to 49 percent in 2019.

The goals of the plan are in line with those established in BBVA’s Pledge 2025 an its climate change and sustainable development strategy. These include, reducing 68% of its carbon emissions, as well as to reach a 70 percent rate in consumption of renewable energy by 2025, and 100 percent by 2030. To achieve this goal, in 2018 BBVA joined RE100, an initiative bringing together the world’s most influential companies committed to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2050.

BBVA wants to position itself among the world’s most environmentally efficient companies. Promoting the use of clean energy sources and reducing direct emissions of greenhouse gases are two priority goals of its strategic lines of action.