Pollution and climate change raise risk of ‘climate fines’ |
“As the globe warms, wildfires and associated air pollution are expected to increase, even under a low emission scenario.” said WMO General Secretary Petteri Taalas.
“In addition to the impact on human health, it will also affect ecosystems as air pollutants are deposited from the atmosphere onto the Earth’s surface.”
“Foretaste of the Future”
Annual WMO Air Quality and Climate Bulletin warned that the interaction between pollution and climate change would impose a “climate penalty” on hundreds of millions of people.
In addition to reporting on the state of air quality and its strong links to climate change, the Bulletin explores a range of possible air quality implications under both high and low greenhouse gas emission scenarios.
Exposure to smoke from wildfires last year has exacerbated this year’s heatwave.
Mr Taalas pointed to the 2022 heatwaves in Europe and China, describing consistent high atmospheric conditions, sunshine and low wind speeds as “contributing to high levels of pollution.”
“This is a foretaste of the future because we expect a further increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of heatwaves, which could lead to even more deterioration in air quality, a phenomenon known as the ‘climate penalty’.”
The “climate penalty” refers specifically to the increase in climate change as it affects the air people breathe.
The region with the strongest projected climate impacts, mostly in Asia, is home to about a quarter of the world’s population.
Climate change could exacerbate ozone pollution, resulting in detrimental health effects for hundreds of millions of people.
Because air quality and climate are intertwined, changes in one will inevitably cause changes in the other.
The bulletin explains that burning fossils also releases nitric oxide, which can react with sunlight to form ozone and nitrate aerosols.
In turn, these air pollutants can negatively affect the health of ecosystems, including clean water, biodiversity, and carbon storage.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth estimate Report provides scenarios for the evolution of air quality as temperatures rise over this century.
If greenhouse gas emissions remain high, such that global temperatures rise 3°C above pre-industrial levels by the second half of the 21st century, ground-level ozone levels are expected to rise in heavily polluted areas, especially in Asia.
This includes a 20% jump in Pakistan, northern India and Bangladesh and a 10% jump in eastern China.
Fossil fuel emissions will cause an increase in ozone, which is likely to trigger heatwaves, which in turn will increase air pollution.
Therefore, heatwaves, which are becoming more common due to climate change, are likely to continue degrading air quality.
© UNICEF/Khabibul Haq
Low carbon scenario
To avoid this, IPCC proposes a low-carbon scenario that will cause some short-term warming before temperatures drop.
A future world that follows this scenario will also benefit from the reduction of nitrogen and sulfur compounds in the atmosphere at the Earth’s surface, where they can damage ecosystems.
WMO stations around the world will monitor the response of air quality and ecosystem health to proposed future emission reductions.
This could quantify the effectiveness of policies to limit climate change and improve air quality.