What You Need to Know About Climate Change and Air Pollution

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How big a problem is air pollution globally?

Air pollution is the world’s leading environmental cause of illness and premature death. Fine air pollution particles or aerosols, also known as fine particulate matter or PM 2.5 , are responsible for 6.4 million deaths every year, caused by diseases such as ischemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, type 2 diabetes, and neonatal disorders. About 95% of these deaths occur in developing countries, where billions of people are exposed to outdoor and indoor concentrations of PM 2.5 that are multiple times higher than guidelines established by the World Health Organization. A World Bank report estimated that the cost of the health damage caused by air pollution amounts to $8.1 trillion a year, equivalent to 6.1% of global GDP.

Poor people, elderly people, and young children who come from poor families are the most affected and the least likely to be able to cope with the health impacts that come with air pollution. Global health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic weaken the resilience of societies. Compounding this, exposure to air pollution is linked to increased incidence of COVID-19-related hospital admissions and mortality. In addition to health, air pollution is also linked to biodiversity and ecosystem loss , and has adverse impacts on human capital . Reducing air pollution, on the other hand, not only improves health but strengthens economies. A recent World Bank study found that a 20% decrease in PM 2.5 concentration is associated with a 16% increase in employment growth rate and a 33% increase in labor productivity growth rate .

A World Bank report estimated that the cost of the health damage caused by air pollution amounts to $8.1 trillion a year, equivalent to 6.1% of global GDP.

How is air pollution related to climate change?

Air pollution and climate change are two sides of the same coin, but they are typically addressed separately. They should be tackled jointly, with a focus on protecting peoples’ health – particularly in low- and middle-income countries – to strengthen human capital and reduce poverty.

Air pollutants and greenhouse gases often come from the same sources, such as coal-fired power plants and diesel-fueled vehicles. Some air pollutants do not last long in the environment, notably black carbon – a part of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 ). Other short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) include methane, hydrofluorocarbons, and ground-level or tropospheric ozone. SLCPs are far more potent climate warmers than carbon dioxide. Methane is a precursor of ground-level ozone, which according to the Climate and Clean air Coalition and Stockholm Environment Institute, kills about a million people each year, and is 80 times more potent at warming the planet than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Their relatively short lifespans, coupled with their strong warming potential, means that interventions to reduce SLCP emissions can deliver climate benefits in a relatively short time. If we address short-lived climate pollutants, we gain dual benefits: better air quality and improved health where we live, and the global benefit of mitigating climate change.

A World Bank study found that PM 2.5 from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal combustion or diesel-fueled vehicle emissions is among the most toxic types of PM 2.5 . Particles from these sources are more damaging to health than particles from most other air pollution sources. Addressing these sources of PM 2.5 -- like coal combustion and traffic – would address the most toxic air pollution. Given that these sources are also key contributors to climate warming, tackling air pollution from these sources also mitigates climate change.  

What are some requirements for effectively addressing air pollution?

Measure it and monitor it . Many developing countries do not have even rudimentary infrastructure for measuring air pollution. A World Bank study found that there was only one PM 2.5 ground-level monitor per 65 million people in low-income countries , and one per 28 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa;  in contrast, there is one monitor per 370,000 people in high-income countries. This is a serious issue, because you cannot properly manage what you do not measure. If you don't know how bad your problem is, you won’t know whether anything you do to fix it is effective. Countries need to establish ground-level monitoring networks and operate and maintain them properly so they yield reliable air quality data.

Know the main sources of air pollution and their contributions to poor air quality. For example, in City A, transport may be the biggest contributor, but in City B, it could be something completely different, such as emissions from dirty cooking fuels seeping from homes into the outside environment. With this information you can target interventions appropriately to abate air pollution. There are certainly intuitive, no-regret steps cities and countries can take to tackle air pollution, such as shifting to clean buses or renewable energy. But if you want to address air pollution comprehensively, you need to understand what your own sources are.

Disseminate air quality data to the public . People have a right to know the quality of the air they're breathing. Disseminating this information exerts pressure on those who can make the needed changes. Air quality data should be easily accessible in formats that are widely understood so people can reduce their exposure to air pollution and protect vulnerable groups such as young children, the elderly, and people with health conditions that can be exacerbated by poor air quality.

What are some interventions that countries can implement to reduce air pollution?

Reducing air pollution may require physical investments or it may require policy reforms or both. Not every intervention fits every context. Interventions whose benefits (notably improved health) outweigh the costs should be selected. Part of our work at the World Bank is to incorporate climate change considerations into analysis so that the climate benefits of improving air quality can be taken into account in the decision-making process. A few examples of interventions to improve air quality in different sectors:

  • Energy : Change the energy mix to include cleaner, renewable energy sources and phase out subsidies that promote use of polluting fuels.
  • Industry: Use renewable fuels, adopt cleaner production measures, and install scrubbers and electrostatic precipitators in industrial facilities to filter particulates from emissions before they are released into the air.
  • Transport : Change from diesel to electric vehicles, install catalytic converters in vehicles to reduce toxicity of emissions, establish vehicle inspection and maintenance programs.
  • Agriculture : Discourage use of nitrogen-based fertilizers; improve nitrogen-use efficiency of agricultural soils; and improve fertilizer and manure management. Nitrogen-based fertilizers release ammonia, a precursor of secondary PM 2.5 formation. Nitrogen-based fertilizers can also be oxidized and emitted to the air as nitrous oxide, a long-lived greenhouse gas.
  • Cooking and heating : Promote clean cooking and heating solutions including clean stoves and boilers.
Part of our work at the World Bank is to incorporate climate change considerations into analysis so that the climate benefits of improving air quality can be taken into account in the decision-making process.

What is the World Bank doing to help?

The World Bank has invested about $52 billion in addressing pollution in the past two decades. However, we need to scale this up. Some successful projects that address air pollution include:

In China , we supported a program in the Hebei region , the largest contributor to air pollution in the country. The overall result was a reduction in the concentration of PM 2.5 in the atmosphere by almost 40% between 2013 and the end of 2017. The program linked loan disbursements to tangible results. Hebei issued the most stringent industrial emission standards in the country, replaced diesel buses with electric buses, coal stoves with gas stoves, and improved the efficiency of fertilizer use in agriculture. The program also supported effective use of a continuous emission monitoring system to track and enforce compliance by all major industrial enterprises in the province. The project delivered about 5 million tons of CO2 equivalent emissions reductions per year through interventions such as the installation of new stoves in municipalities, and addition of a new clean energy bus fleet. The emissions reductions generated from the installation of 1,221,500 new stoves alone were equivalent to taking more than 860,000 passenger cars off the road each year.

In Peru , the World Bank is supporting a project to develop environmental information systems that includes expanding the country's air quality monitoring network to six new cities. The project is also developing new systems to disseminate information on environmental quality to the public.

In Egypt, we assessed the health impacts from environmental pollution, including the effects of ambient air pollution in Greater Cairo. We found that 19,200 people died prematurely and over 3 billion days were lived with illness in Egypt in 2017 as a result of PM 2.5 air pollution in Greater Cairo and inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene in all of Egypt. This analytical work has led to a project to reduce vehicle emissions, improve the management of solid waste, and strengthen the air and climate decision-making system in Greater Cairo .

In Vietnam , we are working with the rapidly growing city of Hanoi to simultaneously combat the issues of climate change and air pollution. We are supporting the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to improve the Air Quality Monitoring Network and develop an understanding of emissions sources, as well as an Air Quality Management Plan for the city.

In Lao PDR , the World Bank program supported the government in establishing stringent ambient air quality standards, including a standard for annual average concentrations of PM 2. in line with the World Health Organization’s air quality guideline value at the time. The program also supported the adoption of regulated procedures for sampling and analyzing PM 2.5 and PM 10 in air, and other pollutants in water.

We need to tackle air pollution and climate change challenges jointly rather than separately with a focus on protecting peoples’ health today, particularly in developing countries.

Can we expect better air quality in the future as countries decarbonize their economies?

First, we must continue to reduce poverty and meet the needs of poor people, whether through lower energy costs, ensuring cleaner air, or other means. With these goals in mind, we need to tackle air pollution and climate change challenges jointly rather than separately with a focus on protecting peoples’ health today, particularly in developing countries. The health benefits of reducing emissions from the burning of fossil fuels can occur in the near term. However, the reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would occur over a longer timeframe. If decarbonization efforts pay attention to non-CO 2 pollutants as well, notably PM 2.5 , we cannot only expect better air quality, but also health benefits in the short term.

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The terrible paradox of air pollution and climate change

Some types of air pollution slow global warming — but at the cost of millions of deaths a year.

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“The smoke is very thick, like a dark mushroom in the sky,” said reporter Gus Abelgas in a 1991 television broadcast on the ongoing volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. “It’s just like what we saw in Hiroshima.”

After 500 years of dormancy , Mount Pinatubo’s June explosion represented one of the largest volcanic events of the 20th century. The eruption forced approximately 30,000 indigenous Aeta people to evacuate the nearby area and killed over 200 people. (An additional 426 people died in the three months following the explosion due to poor conditions in the evacuation zones.)

The eruption also sent a sulfuric gas cloud into the atmosphere 28 miles high — or five Mount Everests stacked on top of each other. While almost a foot of muddy ash covered the surrounding area, the sulfuric gas mixed with water vapor in the air, creating a layer of a reflective acidic compound that cooled the Earth for two years.

Yes, that’s right: A hot volcanic eruption made the planet cooler.

Sulfur dioxide is one of many aerosol particles that reflects the sun’s light and can act to make temperatures globally cooler than they would be otherwise. Mount Pinatubo’s eruption temporarily dropped global temps by about 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit. That doesn’t sound like a huge jump, but if you were to warm the planet by an additional 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit today, that could trigger increased flooding and fire events, sweeping heat waves, super storms, and even famines.

Collectively, volcanoes around the globe emit 20 to 25 million tons of the cooling aerosol sulfur dioxide annually, but in 1991, Mount Pinatubo alone released 15 million tons of the compound. And while extreme, Mount Pinatubo’s cooling effect is not an anomaly — nor are volcanoes the only sources.

Air-polluting sources — such as volcanic eruptions , wildfires , and industrial factories — all emit particles that reflect light and cool the planet. To be absolutely clear: This is not at all to say that air pollution is a good thing. Air pollution, after all, contributes to 7 million premature deaths per year globally. Improving air quality should be a top goal across the planet.

“Many of those same human activities [that contribute to climate change ] can increase air pollution in the form of particles, and those particles are both detrimental to health and counteract, to some extent, the warming that comes from greenhouse gasses,” said Jason West, a professor in environmental sciences and engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

But in the absence of cooling aerosols, we might have nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit more warming, experts say. Given the world is on track to record its hottest summer on record, this is bad news. While the positive effects of temperature-cooling pollution do not outweigh air pollution sources’ greenhouse gas emissions or the overall cost of these pollutants to human health , they have acted to somewhat slow the rate of warming. As we reduce air pollution — which we must do — we need to be prepared for the short-term consequences of even faster global warming.

The relationship between climate change and air pollution

Greenhouse gas emissions — such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide — warm the planet by absorbing light and therefore trapping heat. Electricity production (which has soared over the last few decades) and vehicles are some of the largest producers of these gasses.

Some aerosol particles — such as sulfate aerosols, particulate matter, and sea salt — prevent warming. Heat dances off bright-colored particles and is absorbed by darker particles (like soot and black carbon ). Bright, reflective aerosol particles affect Earth’s temperature by scattering sunlight in the upper part of the atmosphere, the stratosphere . They also create and brighten clouds (which then also reflect light away from the Earth’s surface) by attracting water vapor that attaches and sometimes freezes on the particles. The conglomeration of water vapor prompts the formation and thickening of clouds.

Natural sources, such as volcanoes, sea spray, and desert storms, can shoot these particles into the atmosphere. Human-made sources, like the burning of coal , also emit aerosols. Vehicles and power plants emit sulfate and nitrate particles.

While greenhouse gas emissions can persist in the atmosphere for decades or even centuries , cooling aerosol particles live in the atmosphere for only days or weeks due to their composition and climate conditions. Particle size and temperature influence these emissions’ atmospheric lifespan. As Mount Pinatubo demonstrated, the effect of cooling aerosol particles is temporary (in the case of this massive volcanic eruption, the aerosol effect was felt for approximately two years) but they can be very strong. After the far larger eruption of Mount Tambora, 1816 became known as “ the year without a summer ,” as temperatures dropped by as much as 7 degrees Fahrenheit around the world, crops failed, and tens of thousands of people died from hunger .

In 2018, researchers from the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, NASA , the University of Leeds, the University of Oxford, and Climate Analytics found that ending the emission of greenhouse gasses will also end human-caused aerosol emissions. The absence of these aerosols will result in global heating and increased rain, especially in locations where aerosol emissions were once regularly emitted. The world must prepare for a temporary spike in warmth in order to address the even more dangerous long-term effects of climate change and air pollution.

If human-caused air pollution disappeared this instant, the world would experience the negative warming consequences of past greenhouse emissions for decades to come, with virtually no lingering cooling effect from the previously emitted particles, said West.

“Let’s say we emitted greenhouse gases, CO2, and [aerosol cooling] particles at the same rate forever. Eventually, the greenhouse gases are going to win because they’re going to continue to accumulate,” he said. “Whereas the particle concentration would stay the same because it’s short-lived.” Ultimately, aerosol particles have masked some of greenhouse gasses’ effects, but they won’t do so forever.

Why we need cleaner air

Despite evidence that keeping cooling aerosol particles from polluting sources would prevent some level of global warming, doing so is not an option. One, because they share a source with greenhouse gasses, and two, because they are unequivocally detrimental to human health.

Air Quality Index (AQI) levels are used to measure the level of air pollution and range between 0 to 500. Even at relatively moderate levels (101-150 AQI), air pollution causes eye and throat irritation. But, as the intensity and length of exposure increase, so do the consequences.

PM2.5, a type of fine-particle pollutant, is one of the most harmful air pollutants to human health currently regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, and exposure to high levels can cause heart attacks, strokes, and severe respiratory problems, and even initiate the onset of chronic conditions such as bronchitis and asthma. The effects are particularly dangerous for those suffering from preexisting lung and heart conditions like obstructive pulmonary disease.

“All the things we know that cigarette smoking can cause, like cardiovascular disease and lung cancer, likewise, fine particles do that,” said Patrick Kinney, a professor of urban health for Boston University’s School of Public Health. “Of course, we don’t breathe as much [fine particles] as a cigarette smoker does ... but it’s the same kind of effect.”

Infants and children are particularly susceptible to developing cancers and cognitive impairments due to air pollution. Low- and middle-income countries, primarily in Asia and Africa, account for more than 90 percent of these deaths .

“When we look over the planet, aerosols can have a different influence,” said West. “We expect aerosols to have a bigger effect in the Northern Hemisphere — where most of the pollution sources are — compared to the Southern Hemisphere, which is relatively more pristine. It’s covered by ocean and there’s much less population.” Two-thirds of the African continent and most of Asia lie in the Northern Hemisphere .

Vehicle exhaust and coal combustion contribute to particularly severe air pollution in densely populated areas within Asia. China and India , the two most populous countries in the world, emit over half of the world’s PM2.5 emissions , and in both countries, air pollution contributes to the deaths of more than 2 million people a year.

“We need to switch away from fossil fuels toward renewables ,” said West, “which has benefits for both air pollution and for the climate.”

What will happen to global temperatures?

If humans keep burning fossil fuels, air pollution will worsen, and so will climate change. Consequently, a warmer planet will make our air quality worse . Hot weather creates the perfect conditions for the reactions that produce ozone (a greenhouse gas). And heat waves can cause droughts. During a drought, forest fires, which produce particle pollution, are more common. “Air pollution affects climate change and climate change affects air pollution,” said Kinney.

But air pollution is not the only — or most important — byproduct of climate change, he added. Global warming will bring a host of other problems, including extreme heat waves , hurricanes, wildfires , and the proliferation of infectious diseases .

“This is not new. We’ve had storms always and we’ve had heat waves always,” said Kinney. “But what climate change is doing is making those extremes more extreme, and pushing the sort of upper tail of the extreme distribution for temperature and also for storm intensity.”

Across the world, natural disasters , including extreme winter storms, wildfires, and flooding, are wreaking havoc on communities that previously never faced such events. “It’s worse than a new normal. I call it a new abnormal,” Michael Mann, a climate scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, previously told Vox .

Preventing further climate change is, therefore, the greatest concern, and given greenhouse gases and aerosol cooling particles often stem from the same sources, it’s very difficult to isolate the emissions.

“There are some particles that are warming, such as black carbon particles. They have a warming influence, as well as being bad for health,” said West. “So if we can target black carbon-related emissions, then we could have a benefit for both problems — for both air pollution and health, and for climate. But ... many sources are sources of both black carbon and cooling aerosols.”

Even if the warming and cooling pollutants had different sources, the health outcomes from aerosol particles — heart attacks, strokes, chronic diseases — mean keeping them around isn’t a viable option.

Thus, scientists and researchers are now looking for ways to mimic the cooling aerosol effect without the same negative impact through a practice known as geoengineering . This field encompasses methods meant to offset the impacts of climate change by influencing the environment.

One geoengineering method involves injecting salt particles into the air to brighten and increase cloud coverage over the ocean. Despite research dating back to 2012 showing that salt particles cannot slow climate change at a meaningful rate, researchers continue to explore the idea.

A number of other ideas have been proposed and tested, including producing artificial clouds and placing mirrors in space. Producing clouds would entail shooting sulfur dioxide (the same stuff Mount Pinatubo spat out) into the atmosphere, but initial studies of the practice showed that starting and then stopping the method could lead to dire unknown effects. The consequences of space mirrors seem less deadly but are also less understood, and embarking on such a program would cost trillions of dollars. All of these approaches are also politically contentious.

While none of these methods is ready for wide-scale use, interest in geoengineering is rising. In late June, the Biden administration released a report indicating the White House is open to geoengineering research aimed at cooling the planet, specifically the “scientific and societal implications of solar radiation modification.” No concrete plans or policies in this field have yet been made, indicating a level of necessary caution given concerns about geoengineering’s little-understood ramifications.

Altering the delicate balance of the Earth’s climate system through intentional intervention carries inherent risks, including crop and wildlife die-offs and unintended shifts in weather patterns. Some methods could create massive droughts in some parts of the world, or even deplete the ozone layer further.

Another concern is “ termination shock .” If geoengineering technology went into effect and was then abruptly ended (by choice or by unpredictable events like terrorist attacks or natural disasters) then the resulting warming would be even more significant and catastrophic than current projections.

Additionally, given that one country’s decision to engage in a geoengineering method could have global repercussions, scientists and policymakers continue to debate the political repercussions and oversight of this technology.

And before any of these ideas can come to fruition, scientists and researchers must develop a better understanding of the true impact of the aerosol cooling effect.

“We know that aerosol particles that come from human emissions have the potential to have a cooling effect on climate,” said Casey Wall, a postdoctoral researcher studying climate science at the University of Oslo. “And we know it can offset some of the warming effects from human greenhouse gas emissions. But the really big debate right now in the climate research community is just how much that aerosol cooling effect offsets the warming from greenhouse gases.”

Air pollution’s relationship with and on climate change is complex, but at the end of the day, cleaner air will lead to a healthier planet. “Air pollution as we commonly talk about it is a bad thing overall, even though it has this effect of cooling the climate,” said Wall. “The effects on human health overall outweigh that.”

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New to Climate Change?

Air pollution.

Air pollution is one of the largest threats to human health worldwide, leading to millions of early deaths every year. This air pollution is not the same as the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change—but it does come from many of the same sources, such as burning fossil fuels for energy, heat , and to power vehicles. By choosing less polluting technologies and behaviors, we have opportunities to address both problems at once.

The toll of air pollution

Many common pollutants threaten our health when we breathe them in, including ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. The most dangerous type of air pollution is “particulate matter,” or small solid particles floating in the air. These particles damage our lungs and contribute to heart disease, lung disease and cancer. 1

The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution contributes to 1 in every 8 deaths worldwide: around 7 million early deaths a year. 2 This pollution also hurts the global economy, through health costs on affected individuals, their families, and public health systems, and by decreasing overall productivity.

Air pollution also hurts our ability to think and learn. Studies of children and schools have found that air pollution contributes to learning disabilities, behavioral incidents, and lower test scores. 3

Who suffers from air pollution?

The short answer is almost everybody: the World Health Organization estimates that 99% of people worldwide breathe unhealthy amounts of air pollution. 4   But exposure varies quite a lot. In general, air pollution is most severe in fast-industrializing low- and middle-income countries, and in and around very dense cities. Major cities in India and China are particular hot spots for air pollution. 5 Another major risk factor is relying on indoor coal, kerosene or wood stoves for cooking and heating, which is especially common in rural areas of low- and middle-income countries where there are few alternatives. 6   Air pollution also tends to fall hardest on low-income neighborhoods, which are more likely to sit near sources of pollution like highways, power plants, factories and waste sites. 7 And among those exposed to air pollution, children, pregnant women and the elderly are the most likely to be severely affected. 8

Air pollution and climate change

Some air pollutants are also climate pollutants—including methane and black carbon, a type of particulate matter that warms the planet by absorbing energy from the sun.

Climate change also causes more and larger wildfires , which spread air pollution in the form of huge clouds of smoke. In the U.S., wildfires in September 2020 led to the Pacific Coast briefly being home to 77 of the world’s 100 most air-polluted cities. 9

The strongest connection between climate and air pollution, however, is that most human actions that contribute to climate change also create air pollutants. We release particulate matter every time we burn fuels such as coal, oil or gas, as well as forests , trash, and agricultural waste. Fertilizers and animal waste, both contributors to climate change, also release the air pollutant ammonia. This means that most of our actions to prevent future climate change—like powering our home heating, cars, and electric grid with low-carbon electricity instead of fossil fuels—also offer immediate relief from air pollution.

The health and economic benefits of this relief are immense. Some experts have estimated that aggressive action to slow climate change would more than pay for itself simply by lowering air pollution, such as in the U.S. 10 and China. 11

Policy solutions

Beyond general climate action, there are specific steps we can take to protect ourselves from air pollution.

High-income countries have made great strides in lowering air pollution by requiring pollution control technologies in factories, power plants and vehicles. Middle-income countries like China and India, which have experienced fast industrial growth and mounting air pollution, have recently enacted similar regulations. 12

Despite these regulations, reliable enforcement is a challenge worldwide—in the U.S. alone, high levels of particulate matter affect over 100 million people. 13 Some policies can help with enforcement, like using independent auditors 14 and providing real-time emissions data to environmental inspectors, which is currently being tested for its impact on air pollution and health outcomes. 12

There are also market solutions. The city of Surat in India recently launched the world’s first cap-and-trade market for particulate matter, in which the government provides pollution "allowances" to businesses that they can trade. A study of this market found that it reduced plant pollution by 20–30% at a lower cost to the plants than typical regulations. 15

And technology can help protect people from some of the worst harms of air pollution. Governments or citizens can use HEPA (high-efficiency particulate absorbing) filters to take particulate matter out of the air as it circulates indoors; a study in Colombia is evaluating whether HEPA filters in classrooms enhance student learning. 16 Governments can also subsidize clean cooking fuels or connect homes to the electrical grid in places where many people cook with wood, kerosene and coal stoves, a major source of indoor air pollution. 17

Published March 23, 2022.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Particle Pollution .

2 World Health Organization: Air pollution . Other estimates range from 6.5 million deaths a year (Fuller, Richard, et al., “ Pollution and health: A progress update ,” The Lancet Planetary Health , June 2022), to almost 9 million deaths a year (Lelieveld, Johannes, et al., “ Effects of fossil fuel and total anthropogenic emission removal on public health and climate ,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , 2019), to almost 9 million from air pollution caused by fossil fuel burning alone—or around 1 in 5 deaths worldwide (Vohra, Karn, et al., “ Global mortality from outdoor fine particle pollution generated by fossil fuel combustion: Results from GEOS-Chem ,” Environmental Research , April 2021).

3 See for instance: Xu, Xiaohui, Sandie Uyen Ha, and Rakshya Basnet, “ A Review of Epidemiological Research on Adverse Neurological Effects of Exposure to Ambient Air Pollution ,” Frontiers in Public Health , Vol. 4, August 2016, doi:10.3389/fpubh.2016.00157; Gilraine, Michael, and Angela Zheng, “ Air Pollution and Student Performance in the U.S. ,” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 30061, May 2022, doi:10.3386/w30061; Margolis, Amy, et al., “ Prenatal exposure to air pollution is associated with childhood inhibitory control and adolescent academic achievement ,” Environmental Research , Vol. 202, November 2021, doi:10.1016/j.envres.2021.111570.

4 World Health Organization: Air Pollution .

5 IQAir: 2021 World Air Quality Report .

6 World Health Organization: Household Air Pollution .

7 Hajat, Anjum, Charlene Hsia, and Marie O’Neill, “ Socioeconomic Disparities and Air Pollution Exposure: a Global Review ,” Current Environmental Health Reports , Vol. 2, September 2015, doi:10.1007/s40572-015-0069-5.

8 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Research on Health Effects from Air Pollution .

9 IQAir: 2020 World Air Quality Report .

10 Drew Shindell, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University. “ Health and Economic Benefits of a 2°C Climate Policy .” Testimony to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Hearing on ‘The Devastating Impacts of Climate Change on Health,’ August 5, 2020.

11 Li, Mingwei, et al. “ Air quality co-benefits of carbon pricing in China .” Nature Climate Change , Vol. 8, 2018, doi:10.1038/s41558-018-0139-4

12 Almond, Douglas and Shuang Zhang. " Improved Environmental Inspections in China and Their Effects ." Ongoing. Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL).

13 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: “ National Air Quality: Status and Trends of Key Air Pollutants .” National Summary 2021.

14 Duflo, Esther, Michael Grenstone, Rohini Pande, and Nicholas Ryan. " Truth-Telling by Third-Party Auditors and the Response of Polluting Firms: Experimental Evidence from India ." The Quarterly Journal of Economics , Vol. 128, Issue 4, November 2013, doi:10.1093/qje/qjt024. Duflo, Esther, Michael Greenstone, Rohini Pande, and Nicholas Ryan. 2013. " What Does Reputation Buy? Differentiation in a Market for Third-Party Auditors ." American Economic Review , Vol. 103, No. 3, May 2013, doi:10.1257/aer.103.3.314.

15 Greenstone, Michael, et al. “ The Benefits and Costs of Emissions Trading: Experimental Evidence from a New Market for Industrial Particulate Emissions .” Conference Paper, National Bureau of Economic Research, July 15, 2022.

16 Romero, Mauricio, Michael Kremer, and Santiago Saavedra. “ Air Filters and Students Learning .” Ongoing. J-PAL King Climate Action Initiative-funded study.

17  Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). " Biomass cookstoves to reduce indoor air pollution and fuel use ," J-PAL Policy Insights. Last modified October 2020. doi:10.31485/pi.2265.2020.

Andre Zollinger

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Air pollution, explained

Pollutants in the air aren't always visible and come from many different sources.

Despite decades of progress, the air quality in the United States has started to decline over the past few years, according to data provided in summer 2019 by the Environmental Protection Agency . The agency recorded 15 percent more days with unhealthy air in the country in 2018 and 2017 compared to the average from 2013 to 2016.

The reasons for the recent decline in air quality remain unclear, says the agency, but may be related to high numbers of wildfires , a warming climate, and increasing human consumption patterns driven by population growth and a strong economy. The long-term outlook also remains unclear, even as politicians debate air pollution standards.

What is air pollution?

Air pollution is a mix of particles and gases that can reach harmful concentrations both outside and indoors. Its effects can range from higher disease risks to rising temperatures. Soot, smoke, mold, pollen, methane, and carbon dioxide are a just few examples of common pollutants.

In the U.S., one measure of outdoor air pollution is the Air Quality Index, or AQI which rates air conditions across the country based on concentrations of five major pollutants: ground-level ozone, particle pollution (or particulate matter), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. Some of those also contribute to indoor air pollution , along with radon, cigarette smoke, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, asbestos, and other substances.

A global health hazard

Poor air quality kills people. Worldwide, bad outdoor air caused an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths in 2016 , about 90 percent of them in low- and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization. Indoor smoke is an ongoing health threat to the 3 billion people who cook and heat their homes by burning biomass, kerosene, and coal. Air pollution has been linked to higher rates of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory diseases such as asthma. In the U.S. nearly 134 million people—over 40 percent of the population—are at risk of disease and premature death because of air pollution, according to American Lung Association estimates .

a melting iceberg

While those effects emerge from long-term exposure, air pollution can also cause short-term problems such as sneezing and coughing, eye irritation, headaches, and dizziness. Particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers (classified as PM 10 and the even smaller PM 2.5 ) pose higher health risks because they can be breathed deeply into the lungs and may cross into the bloodstream.

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Air pollutants cause less-direct health effects when they contribute to climate change . Heat waves, extreme weather, food supply disruptions, and other effects related to increased greenhouse gases can have negative impacts on human health. The U.S. Fourth National Climate Assessment released in 2018 noted, for example, that a changing climate "could expose more people in North America to ticks that carry Lyme disease and mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as West Nile, chikungunya, dengue, and Zika."

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Environmental impacts.

Though many living things emit carbon dioxide when they breathe, the gas is widely considered to be a pollutant when associated with cars, planes, power plants, and other human activities that involve the burning of fossil fuels such as gasoline and natural gas. That's because carbon dioxide is the most common of the greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to climate change. Humans have pumped enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the past 150 years to raise its levels higher than they have been for hundreds of thousands of years .

Other greenhouse gases include methane —which comes from such sources as landfills, the natural gas industry, and gas emitted by livestock —and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were used in refrigerants and aerosol propellants until they were banned in the late 1980s because of their deteriorating effect on Earth's ozone layer.

smokestacks

Another pollutant associated with climate change is sulfur dioxide, a component of smog. Sulfur dioxide and closely related chemicals are known primarily as a cause of acid rain . But they also reflect light when released in the atmosphere, which keeps sunlight out and creates a cooling effect. Volcanic eruptions can spew massive amounts of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, sometimes causing cooling that lasts for years. In fact, volcanoes used to be the main source of atmospheric sulfur dioxide; today, people are.

Airborne particles, depending on their chemical makeup, can also have direct effects separate from climate change. They can change or deplete nutrients in soil and waterways, harm forests and crops, and damage cultural icons such as monuments and statues.

What can be done?

Countries around the world are tackling various forms of air pollution. China, for example, is making strides in cleaning up smog-choked skies from years of rapid industrial expansion, partly by closing or canceling coal-fired power plants. In the U.S., California has been a leader in setting emissions standards aimed at improving air quality, especially in places like famously hazy Los Angeles. And a variety of efforts aim to bring cleaner cooking options to places where hazardous cookstoves are prevalent.

In any home, people can safeguard against indoor air pollution by increasing ventilation, testing for radon gas, using air purifiers, running kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans, and avoiding smoking. When working on home projects, look for paint and other products low in volatile organic compounds: organizations such as Green Seal , UL (GREENGUARD) , and the U.S. Green Building Council can help.

To curb global warming, a variety of measures need to be taken , such as adding more renewable energy and replacing gasoline-fueled cars with zero-emissions vehicles such as electric ones. On a larger scale, governments at all levels are making commitments to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The Paris Agreement , ratified on November 4, 2016, is one effort to combat climate change on a global scale. And the Kigali Amendment seeks to further the progress made by the Montreal Protocol , banning heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in addition to CFCs.

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Climate change and air pollution

Gennaro d’amato.

Division of Pneumology, Department of Respiratory Diseases, High Speciality Hospital „V.Monaldi“ Naples and University of Naples Federico II, Naples, Italy

Division of Respiratory and Allergic Diseases, Department of Respiratory Diseases High Speciality Hospital A. Cardarelli, Via Rione Sirignano 10, 80121 Napoli, Italy

Karl Christian Bergmann

Allergie-Centrum-Charité, Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany

Lorenzo Cecchi

Allergology and Immunology Unit, Interdepartmental Centre of Bioclimatology University of Florence, Italy

Allergology and Immunology Unit, Azienda Sanitaria Prato, Italy

Isabella Annesi-Maesano

Paris, France

Alessandro Sanduzzi

Gennaro liccardi, carolina vitale, anna stanziola, maria d’amato.

The observational evidence indicates that recent regional changes in climate, particularly temperature increases, have already affected a diverse set of physical and biological systems in many parts of the world. Allergens patterns are also changing in response to climate change and air pollution can modify the allergenic potential of pollen grains especially in the presence of specific weather conditions.

Although genetic factors are important in the development of asthma and allergic diseases, their rising trend can be explained only by changes occurring in the environment and urban air pollution by motor vehicles has been indicated as one of the major risk factors responsible for this increase.

Despite some differences in the air pollution profile and decreasing trends of some key air pollutants, air quality is an important concern for public health in the cities throughout the world.

Due to climate change, air pollution patterns are changing in several urbanized areas of the world with a significant effect on respiratory health. The underlying mechanisms of all these interactions are not well known yet. The consequences on health vary from decreases in lung function to allergic diseases, new onset of diseases, and exacerbation of chronic respiratory diseases. In addition, it is important to recall that an individual’s response to pollution exposure depends on the source and components of air pollution, as well as meteorological conditions. Indeed, some air pollution-related incidents with asthma aggravation do not depend only on the increased production of air pollution, but rather on atmospheric factors that favor the accumulation of air pollutants at ground level.

Associations between thunderstorms and asthma morbidity of pollinosis-affected people have also been identified in multiple locations around the world ( Fig. ​ Fig.1 1 ).

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is 40629_2014_3_Fig1_HTML.jpg

Cite this as D’Amato G, Bergmann KC, Cecchi L, Annesi-Maesano I, Sanduzzi A, Liccardi G, Vitale C, Stanziola A, D’Amato M. Climate change and air pollution — Effects on pollen allergy and other allergic respiratory diseases. Allergo J Int 2014; 23: 17–23 DOI 10.1007/s40629-014-0003-7

A factor clouding the problem is that laboratory evaluations do not reflect what happens during natural exposition.

Considering these aspects, governments worldwide, international organizations, and cooperations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Health Policy of the European Union (EU) are facing a growing problem of the respiratory effects induced by gaseous and particulate pollutants arising from motor vehicle emissions.

Introduction

Global earth’s temperature has markedly risen over the last 50 years due to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, largely from anthropogenic sources. Changes are also occurring in the amount, intensity, frequency, and type of precipitation as well as in the increase of extreme events like heat waves, droughts, floods, thunderstorms, and hurricanes and these are a real and daunting problem [ 1 ]– 10 ]].

The massive increase of air pollution due to economic and industrial growth during the last century led to a first order environmental problem in a large number of European and North American countries and is currently becoming an emerging problem in other regions of the world [1–43].

Air pollution is convincingly associated with many signs of asthma aggravation (increased bronchial hyper-responsiveness, visits to emergency departments, hospital admissions, increased medication use, etc.) [ 1 , 8 , 9 , 16 – 19 ]. Moreover, sensitive techniques to analyze time-series data have shown that there are clear adverse effects on mortality rates due to current levels of air pollution [ 2 , 3 , 15 ].

Furthermore, several air pollutants, in particular carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) and ozone (O 3 ), are in the list of greenhouse gases which are involved in global warming [ 2 – 4 , 7 – 9 ].

It is unlikely that global climate change can be explained without anthropogenic forcing. As stated in the Working Group I Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) „most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations“ [ 2 , 3 ]. A rapid rise in the number of hot days was also observed and severe meteorological events such as the 2003 and 2012 heat waves with temperatures up to 35 °C and higher resulted in excess deaths in Europe [ 5 , 6 , 20 ]. Moreover, climate scenarios for the next century predict that the warming will be associated with more frequent and more intense heat waves in wide areas of our planet with increased risk of wildfires and desertification. In urban areas, the effects are higher since climate change influences outdoor air pollution because of a strict correlation between generation and dispersion of air pollution and local patterns of temperature, wind, and precipitation. Climate change has also led to water deprivation in certain areas often associated with population migration and the effects on health as a result of mass population movement.

Atopy and asthma are more prevalent in industrialized countries compared with undeveloped and less affluent countries. The effect on health of migration is age-related and time-dependent: younger persons and an increasing duration in the new environment increases the likelihood of developing atopy and asthma.

Climate changes will contribute to the development of atopy and respiratory diseases [ 8 , 21 ].

A number of reports on time trends in allergic respiratory diseases and bronchial asthma have shown a substantial increase in the prevalence of these diseases since the early 1960s [ 1 , 12 – 14 ].

There is also a link between climate changes and air pollution and the individual’s response to the source and components of air pollution and to climatic factors [ 4 , 7 – 11 ]. Some air pollution-related episodes of rhinitis and asthma exacerbation are caused by climatic factors that favor the accumulation of air pollutants (e.g., O 3 ) at ground level. However, the effects of air pollutants on lung function depend on the one hand on the environmental concentration and duration of the pollutants and on the other hand on the duration of exposure.

Greenhouse gas emissions

The key determinants of greenhouse gas emissions are energy production, house heating, transportation, agriculture and food production, and waste management. Attempts at mitigating climate change will need to address each of them. However, while there is some uncertainty about predicting future meteorological trends, whatever interventions may be put in place to ameliorate climate change, it is likely that the world will have more hot days, fewer frost days, and more periods of heavy rain and consequent flooding [2–4]. Paradoxically it is likely, that there will be more periods of drought. A huge increase in CO 2 concentrations during the last two decades was measured. However, it is important to consider that after reduction of CO 2 emissions and stabilization of atmospheric concentrations the surface air temperature will continuously and slowly rise for at least one century.

The most abundant components of air pollution in urban areas are NO 2 , O 3 , and particulate matter (PM). SO 2 is particularly abundant in industrial areas. More than 50 % of the population of the United States are estimated to live in areas where levels of NO 2 , O 3 , SO 2 , and particulates exceed the current National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), as monitored by the US Environmental Protection Agency [ 2 , 3 ]. With its particulate and gaseous emissions, road traffic contributes to air pollution in most urban areas. Although associations between air pollution and respiratory diseases are complex, recent epidemiological studies have led to an increased recognition of the emerging importance of traffic-related air pollution in both developed and less-developed countries [ 2 , 3 ]. A number of experimental and epidemiological studies confirmed the negative effect of urban air pollution on human health and on allergic respiratory diseases [ 1 , 7 – 11 , 22 , 22 ] and projections of climate variability suggest an increase in these effects during the next decades.

Nitrogen dioxide

Car, truck, and power plant exhausts are the most significant sources of outdoor NO 2 , which is a precursor of photochemical smog found in urban and industrial regions. Also, in conjunction with sunlight and hydrocarbons NO 2 results in the production of O 3 . Like O 3 , NO 2 is an oxidizing pollutant, but with a lower chemical reactivity than O 3 . NO 2 exposure is associated with increased emergency room visits, wheezing, and medication use among children with asthma [ 23 ]. Controlled exposure studies on asthmatics have shown that NO 2 can enhance the allergic response to inhaled allergens and NO 2 concentrations in ambient air are also reportedly associated with cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath in atopic subjects [ 7 – 11 , 22 ].

O 3 is generated at ground level by photochemical reactions involving NO 2 , hydrocarbons, and UV radiation. O 3 inhalation induces epithelial damage and consequent inflammatory responses in the upper and lower airways as shown by increased levels of inflammatory cells and mediators in nasal and bronchoalveolar lavage [ 23 ].

About 40–60 % of inhaled O 3 is absorbed in the nasal airways, the remainder reaching the lower airways. Exposure to increased atmospheric levels of O 3 induces reduction of lung function, increased airway hyperreactivity to bronchoconstrictor agents, and is related to an increased risk of asthma exacerbations in asthmatic subjects [ 8 – 11 , 22 ]. Epidemiologic studies have provided evidence that high ambient concentrations of this air pollutant are associated with an increased rate of asthma exacerbations, increased hospital admissions, and/or emergency department visits for respiratory diseases, including asthma. Furthermore, several studies suggest that O 3 increases asthma morbidity by enhancing airway inflammation and epithelial permeability [ 7 – 11 ].

O 3 exposure significantly increases levels of inflammatory cells (in particular neutrophils) and mediators such as Interleukin(IL)-6, IL-8, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), and fibronectin in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) of asthmatic subjects [ 21 , 22 ].

It has been speculated for a long time that O3 and other pollutants may render allergic subjects more susceptible to the antigen they are sensitized [ 7 – 9 ]. It has been observed that the incidence of new diagnoses of asthma is associated with heavy exercise in communities with high concentrations of O 3 , thus, air pollution and outdoor exercise could contribute to the development of asthma [ 21 , 22 ].

However, it is important to take into account that physical exercise in polluted areas results in greater deposition of air pollutants, including allergen-carrying particles, in the lower airways.

The acute health effects of exposure to ambient O 3 have been examined in many geographical regions. Potential adverse effects include decrease in lung function, airway inflammation, symptoms of asthma, increases in hospitalization due to respiratory diseases, and excess mortality. O 3 exposure has both a priming effect on allergen-induced responses and an intrinsic inflammatory action in the airways of allergic asthmatics [ 4 , 9 – 11 , 22 ].

In the long term, continuous exposure to high O 3 levels impairs respiratory function and causes or exacerbates airway inflammation in healthy subjects and atopic asthmatics. At the population level, long-term exposure to O 3 may reduce lung function in schoolchildren and adults and increase the prevalence of asthma and asthmatic symptoms [ 21 , 22 ]. In addition, studies have shown that asthma can be exacerbated by O 3 , as measured by increased visits to emergency departments on days with higher levels of O 3 and other pollutants [7–9].

Traffic-related air pollution, particulate matter, and diesel exhaust particles

There is evidence that living near high-traffic roads is associated with impaired respiratory health including asthma [ 16 – 19 ]. First, McConnell et al. [ 21 ] observed that the incidence of newly diagnosed asthma in children is associated with physical exercise in areas with high concentrations of O 3 and PM. Since then, other prospective cohort studies have indicated that long-term exposure to traffic pollution could contribute to the development of asthma-like symptoms and allergic sensitization in children [ 18 , 19 ]. Potential long-term effects of traffic exhaust on the development of allergic sensitization were only assessed in the four European birth cohorts.

Long-term exposure to outdoor air pollutants had no association with sensitization in ten-year-old schoolchildren in Norway [ 24 ]. These studies, however, are flawed by the fact that no objective assessment of air pollution concentrations was available. Individual exposure was estimated by the distance from the highways.

PM is a mixture of organic and inorganic solid and liquid particles of different origins, size, and composition. It is a major component of urban air pollution and has the greatest effect on health. Penetration of the tracheobronchial area is related to particle size and the efficiency of airway defence mechanisms. Ultrafine particulate matter (UFPM), with diameters of 0.1 μm or less, is a major component of vehicles’ emissions. These particles accumulate into larger fine PM with a diameter of ≤ 2.5 mm (PM 2.5 , particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 mm or less), within short distances from the point of release. PM 10 consists of PM 2.5 and larger particles of mainly crustal or biological origin including many aeroallergens. On the basis of epidemiological and laboratory studies, PM 2.5 appears to be a more potent agent for the development of respiratory and cardiovascular disease compared with PM 10 [ 16 , 17 , 25 ]. PM 10 can penetrate the lower airways, PM 2.5 , is thought to constitute a notable health risk since it can be inhaled more deeply into the lungs at the alveoli level. While human lung parenchyma retains PM 2.5 , particles larger than 5 μm. Particles smaller than 10 μm reach the proximal airways only, where they are eliminated by mucociliary clearance if the airway mucosa is intact [ 7 – 9 ].

A large portion of urban PM originates from diesel engines, as diesel exhaust particles (DEPs) which includes other components such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). DEPs account for up to 90 % of airborne PM in the world’s largest cities and are composed of fine (2.5–0.1 μm) and ultrafine (0.1 μm) particles, which can also can coalesce to form aggregates of varying sizes [ 25 ].

PM 10 levels have been associated with early respiratory exacerbations in children with persistent asthma and with higher prevalence rates even after having considered the dispersion of the particles. Although there is compelling evidence that ambient air pollution exacerbates existing asthma, the link with the development of the asthma syndrome is still less well established, as few studies provide extensive exposure data. Researches have elucidated the mechanisms whereby fine particles induce adverse effects; they appear to affect the balance between antioxidant pathways and airway inflammation. Gene polymorphisms involved in antioxidant pathways can modify responses to air pollution exposure. Acute exposure to diesel exhaust causes specific effects like irritation of nose and eyes, headache, lung function abnormalities, respiratory changes, fatigue, and nausea, while chronic exposure is associated with cough, sputum production, and diminished lung function [ 16 – 19 , 25 ].

Studies have demonstrated inflammation in the airways of healthy individuals after exposure to diesel exhaust and DEPs and elevated expression and concentrations of inflammatory mediators have similarly been observed in the respiratory tract after diesel exhaust and DEP exposure [ 19 , 25 ]. Even if an increased sensitivity of asthmatic individuals to the pro-inflammatory effects of DEPs has not been confirmed, some studies show a bigger effect of exposure to high-traffic roads in asthmatics compared to non asthmatic subjects, also accompanied by increases in levels of biomarkers of neutrophilic inflammation.

Effect of climate change on allergic respiratory diseases

A body of evidence suggests that major changes involving the atmosphere and the climate, including global warming induced by human activity, have an impact on the biosphere and human environment [ 2 , 3 ].

Current knowledge on the worldwide effects of climate change on respiratory allergic diseases is provided by epidemiological and experimental studies on the relationship between asthma and environmental factors, like meteorological variables, airborne allergens, and air pollution.

Pollen allergy is frequently used to study the interrelationship between air pollution and allergic respiratory diseases, e. g., rhinitis and asthma ( Fig. ​ Fig. 2 ). 2 ). Epidemiologic studies have demonstrated that urbanization, high levels of vehicle emissions, and westernized lifestyle are correlated to an increase in the frequency of pollen-induced respiratory allergy prevalent in people who live in urban areas compared to those who live in rural areas [ 8 – 11 ].

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Object name is 40629_2014_3_Fig2_HTML.jpg

Meteorological factors (temperature, wind speed, humidity, thunderstorms etc.) along with their climatic regimes (warm or cold anomalies and dry or wet periods etc.) can affect both biological and chemical components of this interaction. In addition, by inducing airway inflammation, air pollution overcomes mucosal barrier priming allergen-induced responses.

Climate changes might induce negative effects on respiratory allergic diseases favoring the increased length and severity of pollen season, the higher occurrence of heavy precipitation events, and the increasing frequency of urban air pollution episodes.

However, the relationship between air pollution, pollen exposure, and respiratory allergy is based on an individual’s response to air pollution, which depends on the source and components of the pollution as well as on climatic agents and genetic constitution.

Thunderstorm-related allergic respiratory diseases and bronchial asthma in pollinosis subjects

There are observations that thunderstorms occurring during pollen season can induce severe asthma attacks in pollinosis patients [ 20 , 43 – 67 ].

According to current climate change scenarios, there will be an increase in intensity and frequency of heavy rainfall episodes, including thunderstorms, over the next few decades, which can be expected to be associated with an increase in the number and severity of asthma attacks both in adults and in children.

Associations between thunderstorms and asthma morbidity have been identified in multiple locations around the world [ 43 – 67 ]. So called „thunderstorm asthma“ is characterized by asthma outbreaks possibly caused by the dispersion of more respirable allergenic particles derived from pollen and spores by osmotic rupture.

The most prominent hypotheses for thunderstorm-related asthma are linked with bioaerosols and involve the role of rainwater in promoting the release of respirable PM [ 45 , 57 , 61 ].

After hydratation and rupture by osmotic shock during the beginning of a thunderstorm, pollen grains may release in atmosphere part of their cytoplasmic content, including inhalable, allergen-carrying paucimicronic particles such as starch granules and other cytoplasmic components.

Thunderstorm-related asthma outbreaks have been described in various geographical zones such as Birmingham [ 43 ], London [ 48 – 50 ], and Melbourne [ 44 ].

Thunderstorm-related asthma was observed in Naples, Italy, on June 3 and 4, 2004 [ 60 , 61 ], when six adults and one child received treatment in emergency departments. One patient was admitted to an intensive care unit for a very severe bronchial obstruction and acute respiratory insufficiency. All individuals were outdoors when the thunderstorm struck. In one severe case, a female sensitized only to Parietaria pollen allergen, soon began to show symptoms of intense dyspnoea, which gradually worsened. She was taken to hospital where she was intubated and given high intravenous doses of corticosteroids. She was discharged a few days later. This patient had previously suffered from seasonal asthma but had been asthma-free for the past few years and did not need continuous therapy. None of the other six persons regularly took anti-allergic and/or anti-asthma drugs. All seven patients were sensitized with allergic respiratory symptoms upon exposure to Parietaria pollen but were not sensitized to grasses. Parietaria is an Urticacea that is widespread in the Naples area of Italy with a spring and summer pollen season that is, in part, coexistent with that of grasses. During the thunderstorm, the concentration of airborne Parietaria pollen grains was particularly high with a peak of 144 grains/m 3 being recorded on June 3, 2004 [ 60 , 61 ]. Air pollution levels for both gaseous and particulate components based on the hourly concentrations of NO 2 , O 3 , and respirable PM were not particularly high in Naples on June 3 and 4, 2004. Subjects with sensitization to Parietaria who were indoors in Naples with closed windows during the night between June 3 and 4, 2004, did not experience asthma attacks. No moulds or viruses were involved in the Naples epidemics. However, there is a risk of relapse of thunderstorm-related asthma [ 20 , 68 ].

In summary, the occurrence of these epidemics is closely linked to thunderstorm and they are limited to late spring and summer with high levels of airborne pollen grains. There is a close temporal association between the arrival of the thunderstorm, a major rise in the concentration of pollen grains, and the onset of epidemics. As a consequence, subjects affected by pollen allergy should be alert to the danger of being outdoors during a thunderstorm in the pollen season.

Conclusions

Exposure to air pollutants is largely beyond the control of individuals and requires action by public authorities at national, regional, and international levels. A multisectorial approach, engaging such relevant sectors as transport, housing, energy production, and industry is needed to develop and effectively implement long-term policies to reduce the risks of air pollution to health. In other words, strategies to reduce climate changes and air pollution are political in nature, but citizen, in particular health professionals, and societies must continuously and persistently raise their voices in the decision process to give strong support for clean policies on both national and international levels [ 69 , 70 ].

Abbreviations

Online Version http://link.springer.com/journal/40629

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Air Pollution: Everything You Need to Know

How smog, soot, greenhouse gases, and other top air pollutants are affecting the planet—and your health.

Smoke blows out of two tall industrial stacks

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What Is Air Pollution?

What causes air pollution, effects of air pollution, air pollution in the united states, air pollution and environmental justice, controlling air pollution, how to help reduce air pollution, how to protect your health.

Air pollution  refers to the release of pollutants into the air—pollutants that are detrimental to human health and the planet as a whole. According to the  World Health Organization (WHO) , each year, indoor and outdoor air pollution is responsible for nearly seven million deaths around the globe. Ninety-nine percent of human beings currently breathe air that exceeds the WHO’s guideline limits for pollutants, with those living in low- and middle-income countries suffering the most. In the United States, the  Clean Air Act , established in 1970, authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to safeguard public health by regulating the emissions of these harmful air pollutants.

“Most air pollution comes from energy use and production,” says  John Walke , director of the Clean Air team at NRDC. Driving a car on gasoline, heating a home with oil, running a power plant on  fracked gas : In each case, a fossil fuel is burned and harmful chemicals and gases are released into the air.

“We’ve made progress over the last 50 years in improving air quality in the United States, thanks to the Clean Air Act. But climate change will make it harder in the future to meet pollution standards, which are designed to  protect health ,” says Walke.

Air pollution is now the world’s fourth-largest risk factor for early death. According to the 2020  State of Global Air  report —which summarizes the latest scientific understanding of air pollution around the world—4.5 million deaths were linked to outdoor air pollution exposures in 2019, and another 2.2 million deaths were caused by indoor air pollution. The world’s most populous countries, China and India, continue to bear the highest burdens of disease.

“Despite improvements in reducing global average mortality rates from air pollution, this report also serves as a sobering reminder that the climate crisis threatens to worsen air pollution problems significantly,” explains  Vijay Limaye , senior scientist in NRDC’s Science Office. Smog, for instance, is intensified by increased heat, forming when the weather is warmer and there’s more ultraviolet radiation. In addition, climate change increases the production of allergenic air pollutants, including mold (thanks to damp conditions caused by extreme weather and increased flooding) and pollen (due to a longer pollen season). “Climate change–fueled droughts and dry conditions are also setting the stage for dangerous wildfires,” adds Limaye. “ Wildfire smoke can linger for days and pollute the air with particulate matter hundreds of miles downwind.”

The effects of air pollution on the human body vary, depending on the type of pollutant, the length and level of exposure, and other factors, including a person’s individual health risks and the cumulative impacts of multiple pollutants or stressors.

Smog and soot

These are the two most prevalent types of air pollution. Smog (sometimes referred to as ground-level ozone) occurs when emissions from combusting fossil fuels react with sunlight. Soot—a type of  particulate matter —is made up of tiny particles of chemicals, soil, smoke, dust, or allergens that are carried in the air. The sources of smog and soot are similar. “Both come from cars and trucks, factories, power plants, incinerators, engines, generally anything that combusts fossil fuels such as coal, gasoline, or natural gas,” Walke says.

Smog can irritate the eyes and throat and also damage the lungs, especially those of children, senior citizens, and people who work or exercise outdoors. It’s even worse for people who have asthma or allergies; these extra pollutants can intensify their symptoms and trigger asthma attacks. The tiniest airborne particles in soot are especially dangerous because they can penetrate the lungs and bloodstream and worsen bronchitis, lead to heart attacks, and even hasten death. In  2020, a report from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health showed that COVID-19 mortality rates were higher in areas with more particulate matter pollution than in areas with even slightly less, showing a correlation between the virus’s deadliness and long-term exposure to air pollution. 

These findings also illuminate an important  environmental justice issue . Because highways and polluting facilities have historically been sited in or next to low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, the negative effects of this pollution have been  disproportionately experienced by the people who live in these communities.

Hazardous air pollutants

A number of air pollutants pose severe health risks and can sometimes be fatal, even in small amounts. Almost 200 of them are regulated by law; some of the most common are mercury,  lead , dioxins, and benzene. “These are also most often emitted during gas or coal combustion, incineration, or—in the case of benzene—found in gasoline,” Walke says. Benzene, classified as a carcinogen by the EPA, can cause eye, skin, and lung irritation in the short term and blood disorders in the long term. Dioxins, more typically found in food but also present in small amounts in the air, is another carcinogen that can affect the liver in the short term and harm the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems, as well as reproductive functions.  Mercury  attacks the central nervous system. In large amounts, lead can damage children’s brains and kidneys, and even minimal exposure can affect children’s IQ and ability to learn.

Another category of toxic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are by-products of traffic exhaust and wildfire smoke. In large amounts, they have been linked to eye and lung irritation, blood and liver issues, and even cancer.  In one study , the children of mothers exposed to PAHs during pregnancy showed slower brain-processing speeds and more pronounced symptoms of ADHD.

Greenhouse gases

While these climate pollutants don’t have the direct or immediate impacts on the human body associated with other air pollutants, like smog or hazardous chemicals, they are still harmful to our health. By trapping the earth’s heat in the atmosphere, greenhouse gases lead to warmer temperatures, which in turn lead to the hallmarks of climate change: rising sea levels, more extreme weather, heat-related deaths, and the increased transmission of infectious diseases. In 2021, carbon dioxide accounted for roughly 79 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and methane made up more than 11 percent. “Carbon dioxide comes from combusting fossil fuels, and methane comes from natural and industrial sources, including large amounts that are released during oil and gas drilling,” Walke says. “We emit far larger amounts of carbon dioxide, but methane is significantly more potent, so it’s also very destructive.” 

Another class of greenhouse gases,  hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) , are thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide in their ability to trap heat. In October 2016, more than 140 countries signed the Kigali Agreement to reduce the use of these chemicals—which are found in air conditioners and refrigerators—and develop greener alternatives over time. (The United States officially signed onto the  Kigali Agreement in 2022.)

Pollen and mold

Mold and allergens from trees, weeds, and grass are also carried in the air, are exacerbated by climate change, and can be hazardous to health. Though they aren’t regulated, they can be considered a form of air pollution. “When homes, schools, or businesses get water damage, mold can grow and produce allergenic airborne pollutants,” says Kim Knowlton, professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University and a former NRDC scientist. “ Mold exposure can precipitate asthma attacks  or an allergic response, and some molds can even produce toxins that would be dangerous for anyone to inhale.”

Pollen allergies are worsening  because of climate change . “Lab and field studies are showing that pollen-producing plants—especially ragweed—grow larger and produce more pollen when you increase the amount of carbon dioxide that they grow in,” Knowlton says. “Climate change also extends the pollen production season, and some studies are beginning to suggest that ragweed pollen itself might be becoming a more potent allergen.” If so, more people will suffer runny noses, fevers, itchy eyes, and other symptoms. “And for people with allergies and asthma, pollen peaks can precipitate asthma attacks, which are far more serious and can be life-threatening.”

air pollution and climate change essay

More than one in three U.S. residents—120 million people—live in counties with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to the  2023  State of the Air  report by the American Lung Association (ALA). Since the annual report was first published, in 2000, its findings have shown how the Clean Air Act has been able to reduce harmful emissions from transportation, power plants, and manufacturing.

Recent findings, however, reflect how climate change–fueled wildfires and extreme heat are adding to the challenges of protecting public health. The latest report—which focuses on ozone, year-round particle pollution, and short-term particle pollution—also finds that people of color are 61 percent more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade in at least one of those categories, and three times more likely to live in a county that fails in all three.

In rankings for each of the three pollution categories covered by the ALA report, California cities occupy the top three slots (i.e., were highest in pollution), despite progress that the Golden State has made in reducing air pollution emissions in the past half century. At the other end of the spectrum, these cities consistently rank among the country’s best for air quality: Burlington, Vermont; Honolulu; and Wilmington, North Carolina. 

No one wants to live next door to an incinerator, oil refinery, port, toxic waste dump, or other polluting site. Yet millions of people around the world do, and this puts them at a much higher risk for respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, neurological damage, cancer, and death. In the United States, people of color are 1.5 times more likely than whites to live in areas with poor air quality, according to the ALA.

Historically, racist zoning policies and discriminatory lending practices known as  redlining  have combined to keep polluting industries and car-choked highways away from white neighborhoods and have turned communities of color—especially low-income and working-class communities of color—into sacrifice zones, where residents are forced to breathe dirty air and suffer the many health problems associated with it. In addition to the increased health risks that come from living in such places, the polluted air can economically harm residents in the form of missed workdays and higher medical costs.

Environmental racism isn't limited to cities and industrial areas. Outdoor laborers, including the estimated three million migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the United States, are among the most vulnerable to air pollution—and they’re also among the least equipped, politically, to pressure employers and lawmakers to affirm their right to breathe clean air.

Recently,  cumulative impact mapping , which uses data on environmental conditions and demographics, has been able to show how some communities are overburdened with layers of issues, like high levels of poverty, unemployment, and pollution. Tools like the  Environmental Justice Screening Method  and the EPA’s  EJScreen  provide evidence of what many environmental justice communities have been explaining for decades: that we need land use and public health reforms to ensure that vulnerable areas are not overburdened and that the people who need resources the most are receiving them.

In the United States, the  Clean Air Act  has been a crucial tool for reducing air pollution since its passage in 1970, although fossil fuel interests aided by industry-friendly lawmakers have frequently attempted to  weaken its many protections. Ensuring that this bedrock environmental law remains intact and properly enforced will always be key to maintaining and improving our air quality.

But the best, most effective way to control air pollution is to speed up our transition to cleaner fuels and industrial processes. By switching over to renewable energy sources (such as wind and solar power), maximizing fuel efficiency in our vehicles, and replacing more and more of our gasoline-powered cars and trucks with electric versions, we'll be limiting air pollution at its source while also curbing the global warming that heightens so many of its worst health impacts.

And what about the economic costs of controlling air pollution? According to a report on the Clean Air Act commissioned by NRDC, the annual  benefits of cleaner air  are up to 32 times greater than the cost of clean air regulations. Those benefits include up to 370,000 avoided premature deaths, 189,000 fewer hospital admissions for cardiac and respiratory illnesses, and net economic benefits of up to $3.8 trillion for the U.S. economy every year.

“The less gasoline we burn, the better we’re doing to reduce air pollution and the harmful effects of climate change,” Walke explains. “Make good choices about transportation. When you can, ride a bike, walk, or take public transportation. For driving, choose a car that gets better miles per gallon of gas or  buy an electric car .” You can also investigate your power provider options—you may be able to request that your electricity be supplied by wind or solar. Buying your food locally cuts down on the fossil fuels burned in trucking or flying food in from across the world. And most important: “Support leaders who push for clean air and water and responsible steps on climate change,” Walke says.

  • “When you see in the news or hear on the weather report that pollution levels are high, it may be useful to limit the time when children go outside or you go for a jog,” Walke says. Generally, ozone levels tend to be lower in the morning.
  • If you exercise outside, stay as far as you can from heavily trafficked roads. Then shower and wash your clothes to remove fine particles.
  • The air may look clear, but that doesn’t mean it’s pollution free. Utilize tools like the EPA’s air pollution monitor,  AirNow , to get the latest conditions. If the air quality is bad, stay inside with the windows closed.
  • If you live or work in an area that’s prone to wildfires,  stay away from the harmful smoke  as much as you’re able. Consider keeping a small stock of masks to wear when conditions are poor. The most ideal masks for smoke particles will be labelled “NIOSH” (which stands for National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) and have either “N95” or “P100” printed on it.
  • If you’re using an air conditioner while outdoor pollution conditions are bad, use the recirculating setting to limit the amount of polluted air that gets inside. 

This story was originally published on November 1, 2016, and has been updated with new information and links.

This NRDC.org story is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the story was originally published by NRDC.org and link to the original; the story cannot be edited (beyond simple things such as grammar); you can’t resell the story in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select stories individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our stories.

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Air pollution is a silent killer. Here's how cities are tackling it

Air pollution claims 13 lives a minute — but, now, cities are taking meaningful action all over the world to reduce it.

Air pollution claims 13 lives a minute — but, now, cities are taking meaningful action all over the world to reduce it. Image:  REUTERS

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Iyad kheirbek, magdalena młochowska.

air pollution and climate change essay

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Stay up to date:, air pollution.

  • Around the world, air pollution kills 13 people every minute — many of them in cities.
  • This problem could grow as urbanization accelerates.
  • However, cities are now taking action to cut air pollution, improve health and make our cities better places to live.

Air pollution kills 13 people every minute worldwide and evidence continues to reveal new connections between polluted air and adverse health effects. As urbanization increases and air quality deteriorates, addressing emissions to protect public health is critical.

Cities worldwide are increasingly taking action to counter air pollution. 50 cities participating in C40's Cities Clean Air Accelerator and 35 cities from C40’s Green and Healthy Streets Accelerator are committed to launching innovative strategies and bold initiatives to clean their air and protect the wellbeing of residents.

The last five years have seen growth in new initiatives to reduce air pollution, from vehicle-access restrictions to electrification of public bus fleets and mitigation of on-site emissions from buildings.

Cities in the C40 Network are tackling their air pollution, ranging from waste-reduction initiatives to bolstering green public transport.

Have you read?

Air pollution is making it harder for pollinators to find food - here's why it matters, how china is tackling air pollution with big data.

Introducing SmogStripes: An online tool to visualize and compare global air pollution

Successfully cutting transport's emissions

Transportation is a significant contributor to urban air pollution, prompting many mayors to implement stricter measures, such as restricting polluting vehicles from entering certain areas or entire cities. These actions, integral to broader initiatives aimed at achieving climate objectives and enhancing urban mobility, are transforming cities into healthier, more liveable communities.

London recently expanded its Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to cover the Greater London area, creating the largest global clean air zone. Since ULEZ, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels have declined by almost 50% in central London, as compared to a scenario without the ULEZ. More than 95% of vehicles seen driving in London are now compliant with the ULEZ emissions standards, up from just 39% in 2017.

This has been supported through a £270m scrappage scheme by the Mayor of London, enabling over 60,000 Londoners, businesses and charities to replace or retrofit their older, polluting vehicles and switch to cleaner, greener modes of transport.

Policies in London, such as the central ULEZ, have contributed to reductions in the number of hospital admissions for asthma attributable to air pollution of 30% in 2017 to 2019, compared to the period between 2014 to 2016.

Madrid, Milan and Seoul, meanwhile, are expanding low-emission zones and imposing stricter limits on polluting vehicles. Warsaw will introduce the Strefy Czystego Transportu (SCT) in July 2024, limiting high-polluting vehicles in 7% of the city. Bogotá’s Urban Zones for Better Air (ZUMA), developed with local communities, targets pollution from transportation and industry to enhance air quality and public health whilst revitalizing public spaces.

Zero emission bus fleets are growing in cities all over the world.

Cities are also electrifying public transport to cut emissions and meet air quality targets. In three years, European and Latin American cities in the C40 Green and Healthy Streets Accelerator almost doubled electric bus numbers. London has 1,300 zero-emission buses, Seoul operates over 1,000 electric buses and 27 hydrogen fuel cell buses.

Santiago has 2,000 electric buses, 31% of its fleet, while Delhi operates 1,300 electric buses. Despite progress, cities encounter challenges in fully electrifying their vehicle fleets, including financing, building charging infrastructure and grid capacity constraints.

The role of buildings and energy production

Cities are addressing emissions not only from transportation but also from buildings and energy production. They’re implementing initiatives to enhance building efficiency, enforce performance standards and shift away from fossil fuels for heating and cooking. Furthermore, they’re extending access to clean energy sources and providing essential services to informal settlements, such as household electrification.

A ban on using non-class coal and wood boilers in Warsaw began in January 2023. Since October 2023 this includes burning coal in households. In addition, Warsaw has provided subsidies and grants to replace domestic solid fuel heating systems for cleaner renewable heating alternatives since 2018.

From New York to Tokyo, these major cities are tackling air pollution as part of the C40 Cities initiative.

Rethinking waste management

Waste management, an important intervention in many cities in the global south, is a focus for signatories of the C40 Cities Clean Air Accelerator, especially in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa collects 43% of urban waste (9% rural), with nearly 70% disposed of in open dumps . Interventions include composting, recycling and optimizing waste collection.

Dakar, for example, rehabilitates former waste burning sites, creating jobs for young people and curbing air pollution from open burning. Addis Ababa is expanding waste management with composting and recycling initiatives, emphasizing their vital role in curbing air pollution and promoting inclusive economic growth. Accra involves local communities in developing community waste separation programmes and Tshwane runs awareness campaigns on the health hazards of tire burning.

The role of data in fighting emissions

Central to these efforts is the expansion of air quality data, giving city officials insights into pollution levels and sources, and empowering residents with health-relevant information. Using innovative technologies, cities are expanding air monitoring capabilities, deploying lower-cost sensors to widen spatial coverage and identity pollution hotspots.

Signatory cities of the Clean Air Accelerator use low-cost sensors, with 35 of 50 cities using them in their air quality networks. Breathe London 's network expanded from 136 to over 400 monitoring sites. Jakarta added 14 lower-cost monitors to its reference stations, offering extensive citywide air quality data. Quezon City positioned 21 new air monitors near sensitive locations, with plans for further expansion.

In September 2022, Warsaw launched a network expansion of 100 air quality monitors to their existing eight reference stations, with a further 57 sensors in 17 municipalities neighbouring Warsaw. Nairobi also expanded its network, deploying 17 air quality monitors that report real-time data to the public.

Despite efforts, raising awareness about air pollution sources and risks remains challenging. Surveys in cities worldwide show differing resident understanding of pollution sources and impacts, emphasizing the need for education. In Bogotá, although 92% think about air quality daily, many are unaware of primary pollution sources. This underscores the importance of initiatives to expand public awareness and support informed decision-making. London created innovative visual campaigns to expand public awareness and reduce emissions.

Public campaigns in London on the risks of air pollution.

Global cities are at the forefront of the battle against air pollution, implementing bold initiatives to protect citizen’s health. Using regulation and innovative technology, urban centres deploy diverse strategies to achieve clean air.

Our Common Air , a new Commission working to catalyze global action on air pollution, has highlighted the need to engage subnational climate and health leaders. As momentum grows, it is vital that cities, national governments, advocates and the private sector work together to expand these initiatives, ensuring clean air becomes a reality.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

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Climate change and air pollution in china.

by  Wei Guo   (ELP 2016) | Master's Student, National School of Development, China

China’s economy continues to grow at a rate of more than 7% annually, as it has for more than two decades. Like any country now or in history experiencing an economy boom driven by manufacturing industry, China’s economic growth has an environmental dark side. China now boasts five of the ten most polluted cities in the world, and on PM2.5 side, even the tenth worst city in China is five times polluted more than the first in US.

air pollution and climate change essay

Unfortunately, after more than 15 years of this rapid growth without public awareness of environment problems, it was not until several extreme air pollution events occured since 2013 that Chinese public and authorities started to think about actual or potential deterioration of environment due to economic activities. I started to do research on environmental economics in 2012, which was a dull subject then, but now there has been an explosion of interest in the environment. Ironically, extreme air pollution is driving new visions of sustainability and new formats of interaction between political authorities and the people. The following picture is a typical air pollution disaster in Beijing, China, however, this is not an extreme case in Beijing’s winter. Every winter in the past three years, Beijing residents have suffered visible air pollution at least this severe or even more severe than this.

air pollution and climate change essay

In the past few days with fantastic and impressive ELP lectures, what impressed but also humbled me most, is China’s public ignorance to climate change around us. Air pollution and carbon dioxide are different things in China. For example, Chinese people start to care about clean coal, but “clean” here means low sulfur. One Chinese clean energy target is to increase natural gas to 10% of the power mix, but policy makers ignore its environmental effect on global warming. The Chinese government has been under pressure internally to take action on air pollution to bring improvements in air quality, but this only brings a limited glimmer of hope in climate change. Even if data tells us that China’s overall mean annual temperature has significantly increased over the past few decades, from China’s past experience, it’s sad to admit that, in lack of severe meteorological disaster events in big cities, Chinese public awareness of climate change is unlikely to rise remarkably. In fact, in a survey conducted by China Center for Climate Change Communication (jointly established by the Research Center for Journalism and Social Development of Renmin University and Oxfam Hong Kong) in 2012, 93 percent of respondents say they know at least a little about climate change, but only 11 percent say they know a lot. Not knowing that he is ignorant, is double ignorance.

air pollution and climate change essay

Luckily or unluckily, in the future, the Earth's warming will lead to more frequent emergence of extreme weather and climate event, and China will not be immune. The Chinese public and authorities will attach better importance to climate change and make this challenge a priority. This is a challenge and a chance for environmental scholars, for leaders, and for the world as well.

(1) https://www.statista.com/chart/3161/air-pollution-levels-in-perspective/ (2) http://chinachristiandaily.com/2016-01-27/society/china-air-pollution--80--of-cities-in-breach-of-national-standards_464.html (3) Tang G, Ding Y, Wang S, et al. Comparative analysis of China surface air temperature series for the past 100 years[J]. Advances in Climate Change Research, 2010, 1(1): 11-19.

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One Thing Most Countries Have in Common: Unsafe Air

New research found that fewer than 10 percent of countries and territories met World Health Organization guidelines for particulate matter pollution last year.

A man covered his mouth and nose as he walks on a road with people in the background obscured by smoke and dust.

By Delger Erdenesanaa

Only 10 countries and territories out of 134 achieved the World Health Organization’s standards for a pervasive form of air pollution last year, according to air quality data compiled by IQAir , a Swiss company.

The pollution studied is called fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, because it refers to solid particles less than 2.5 micrometers in size: small enough to enter the bloodstream. PM2.5 is the deadliest form of air pollution, leading to millions of premature deaths each year .

“Air pollution and climate change both have the same culprit, which is fossil fuels,” said Glory Dolphin Hammes, the CEO of IQAir’s North American division.

The World Health Organization sets a guideline that people shouldn’t breathe more than 5 micrograms of fine particulate matter per cubic meter of air, on average, throughout a year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed tightening its standard from 12 to 9 micrograms per cubic meter.

The few oases of clean air that meet World Health Organization guidelines are mostly islands, as well as Australia and the northern European countries of Finland and Estonia. Of the non-achievers, where the vast majority of the human population lives, the countries with the worst air quality were mostly in Asia and Africa.

Where some of the dirtiest air is found

The four most polluted countries in IQAir’s ranking for 2023 — Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Tajikistan — are in South and Central Asia.

Air quality sensors in almost a third of the region’s cities reported concentrations of fine particulate matter that were more than 10 times the WHO guideline. This was a proportion “vastly exceeding any other region,” the report’s authors wrote.

The researchers pointed to vehicle traffic, coal and industrial emissions, particularly from brick kilns, as major sources of the region’s pollution. Farmers seasonally burning their crop waste contribute to the problem, as do households burning wood and dung for heat and cooking.

China reversed recent gains

One notable change in 2023 was a 6.3 percent increase in China’s air pollution compared with 2022, after at least five years of improvement. Beijing experienced a 14 percent increase in PM2.5 pollution last year.

The national government announced a “war against pollution” in 2014 and had been making progress ever since. But the sharpest decline in China’s PM2.5 pollution happened in 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic forced much of the country’s economic activity to slow or shut down. Ms. Dolphin Hammes attributed last year’s uptick to a reopening economy.

And challenges remain: Eleven cities in China reported air pollution levels last year that exceeded the WHO guidelines by 10 times or more. The worst was Hotan, Xinjiang.

Significant gaps in the data

IQAir researchers analyze data from more than 30,000 air quality monitoring stations and sensors across 134 countries, territories and disputed regions. Some of these monitoring stations are run by government agencies, while others are overseen by nonprofit organizations, schools, private companies and citizen scientists.

There are large gaps in ground-level air quality monitoring in Africa and the Middle East, including in regions where satellite data show some of the highest levels of air pollution on Earth.

As IQAir works to add data from more cities and countries in future years, “the worst might be yet to come in terms of what we’re measuring,” Ms. Dolphin Hammes said.

Wildfire smoke: a growing problem

Although North America is one of the cleaner regions in the world, in 2023 wildfires burned 4 percent of Canada’s forests, an area about half the size of Germany, and significantly impaired air quality.

Usually, North America’s list of most polluted cities is dominated by the United States. But last year, the top 13 spots all went to Canadian cities, many of them in Alberta.

In the United States, cities in the Upper Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic states also got significant amounts of PM2.5 pollution from wildfire smoke that drifted across the border.

Risks of short-term exposure

It’s not just chronic exposure to air pollution that harms people’s health.

For vulnerable people like the very young and old, or those with underlying illnesses, breathing in large amounts of fine particulate pollution for just a few hours or days can sometimes be deadly. About 1 million premature deaths per year can be attributed to short-term PM2.5 exposure, according to a recent global study published in The Lancet Planetary Health.

The problem is worst in East and South Asia, as well as in West Africa.

Without accounting for short-term exposures, “we might be underestimating the mortality burden from air pollution,” said Yuming Guo, a professor at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and one of the study’s authors.

U.S. disparities widen

Within individual countries, air pollution and its health effects aren’t evenly distributed.

Air quality in the United States has generally been improving since the Clean Air Act of the 1970s. Last decade, premature deaths from PM2.5 exposure declined to about 49,400 in 2019, down from about 69,000 in 2010.

But progress has happened faster in some communities than in others. Racial and ethnic disparities in air pollution deaths have grown in recent years, according to a national study published this month .

The census tracts in the United States with the fewest white residents have about 32 percent higher rates of PM2.5-related deaths, compared with those with the most white residents. This disparity in deaths per capita has increased by 16 percent between 2010 and 2019.

The study examined race and ethnicity separately, and found the disparity between the census tracts with the most and least Hispanic residents grew even more, by 40 percent.

In IQAir’s rankings, the United States is doing much better than most other countries. But studies that dig deeper show air quality is still an issue, said Gaige Kerr, a research scientist at George Washington University and the lead author of the disparities paper published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. “There’s still a lot of work to do,” he said.

Dr. Kerr’s research showed that mortality rates were highest on the Gulf Coast and in the Ohio River Valley, in areas dominated by petrochemical and manufacturing industries. He also noted that researchers have seen a slight uptick in rates of PM2.5-related deaths starting around 2016, particularly in the Western states, likely because of increasing wildfires.

Delger Erdenesanaa is a reporter covering climate and the environment and a member of the 2023-24 Times Fellowship class, a program for journalists early in their careers. More about Delger Erdenesanaa

Learn More About Climate Change

Have questions about climate change? Our F.A.Q. will tackle your climate questions, big and small .

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MethaneSAT, a washing-machine-sized satellite , is designed to detect emissions of methane, an invisible yet potent gas that is dangerously heating the world.  Here is how it works .

Two friends, both young climate researchers, recently spent hours confronting the choices that will shape their careers, and the world. Their ideas are very different .

New satellite-based research reveals how land along the East Coast is slumping into the ocean, compounding the danger from global sea level rise . A major culprit: overpumping of groundwater.

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Air Pollution: Current and Future Challenges

Despite dramatic progress cleaning the air since 1970, air pollution in the United States continues to harm people’s health and the environment. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA continues to work with state, local and tribal governments, other federal agencies, and stakeholders to reduce air pollution and the damage that it causes.
  • Learn about more about air pollution, air pollution programs, and what you can do.

Outdoor air pollution challenges facing the United States today include:

  • Meeting health-based standards for common air pollutants
  • Limiting climate change
  • Reducing risks from toxic air pollutants
  • Protecting the stratospheric ozone layer against degradation

Indoor air pollution, which arises from a variety of causes, also can cause health problems. For more information on indoor air pollution, which is not regulated under the Clean Air Act, see EPA’s indoor air web site .

Air Pollution Challenges: Common Pollutants

Great progress has been made in achieving national air quality standards, which EPA originally established in 1971 and updates periodically based on the latest science. One sign of this progress is that visible air pollution is less frequent and widespread than it was in the 1970s.

However, air pollution can be harmful even when it is not visible. Newer scientific studies have shown that some pollutants can harm public health and welfare even at very low levels. EPA in recent years revised standards for five of the six common pollutants subject to national air quality standards. EPA made the standards more protective because new, peer-reviewed scientific studies showed that existing standards were not adequate to protect public health and the environment.

Status of common pollutant problems in brief

Today, pollution levels in many areas of the United States exceed national air quality standards for at least one of the six common pollutants:

  • Although levels of particle pollution and ground-level ozone pollution are substantially lower than in the past, levels are unhealthy in numerous areas of the country. Both pollutants are the result of emissions from diverse sources, and travel long distances and across state lines. An extensive body of scientific evidence shows that long- and short-term exposures to fine particle pollution, also known as fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 ), can cause premature death and harmful effects on the cardiovascular system, including increased hospital admissions and emergency department visits for heart attacks and strokes. Scientific evidence also links PM to harmful respiratory effects, including asthma attacks. Ozone can increase the frequency of asthma attacks, cause shortness of breath, aggravate lung diseases, and cause permanent damage to lungs through long-term exposure. Elevated ozone levels are linked to increases in hospitalizations, emergency room visits and premature death. Both pollutants cause environmental damage, and fine particles impair visibility. Fine particles can be emitted directly or formed from gaseous emissions including sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides. Ozone, a colorless gas, is created when emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react.  
  • For unhealthy peak levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide , EPA is working with states and others on ways to determine where and how often unhealthy peaks occur. Both pollutants cause multiple adverse respiratory effects including increased asthma symptoms, and are associated with increased emergency department visits and hospital admissions for respiratory illness. Both pollutants cause environmental damage, and are byproducts of fossil fuel combustion.  
  • Airborne lead pollution, a nationwide health concern before EPA phased out lead in motor vehicle gasoline under Clean Air Act authority, now meets national air quality standards except in areas near certain large lead-emitting industrial facilities. Lead is associated with neurological effects in children, such as behavioral problems, learning deficits and lowered IQ, and high blood pressure and heart disease in adults.  
  • The entire nation meets the carbon monoxide air quality standards, largely because of emissions standards for new motor vehicles under the Clean Air Act.

In Brief: How EPA is working with states and tribes to limit common air pollutants

  • EPA's air research provides the critical science to develop and implement outdoor air regulations under the Clean Air Act and puts new tools and information in the hands of air quality managers and regulators to protect the air we breathe.  
  • To reflect new scientific studies, EPA revised the national air quality standards for fine particles (2006, 2012), ground-level ozone (2008, 2015), sulfur dioxide (2010), nitrogen dioxide (2010), and lead (2008). After the scientific review, EPA decided to retain the existing standards for carbon monoxide.  EPA strengthened the air quality standards for ground-level ozone in October 2015 based on extensive scientific evidence about ozone’s effects.

EPA has designated areas meeting and not meeting the air quality standards for the 2006 and 2012 PM standards and the 2008 ozone standard, and has completed an initial round of area designations for the 2010 sulfur dioxide standard. The agency also issues rules or guidance for state implementation of the various ambient air quality standards – for example, in March 2015, proposing requirements for implementation of current and future fine particle standards. EPA is working with states to improve data to support implementation of the 2010 sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide standards.

For areas not meeting the national air quality standards, states are required to adopt state implementation plan revisions containing measures needed to meet the standards as expeditiously as practicable and within time periods specified in the Clean Air Act (except that plans are not required for areas with “marginal” ozone levels).

  • EPA is helping states to meet standards for common pollutants by issuing federal emissions standards for new motor vehicles and non-road engines, national emissions standards for categories of new industrial equipment (e.g., power plants, industrial boilers, cement manufacturing, secondary lead smelting), and technical and policy guidance for state implementation plans. EPA and state rules already on the books are projected to help 99 percent of counties with monitors meet the revised fine particle standards by 2020. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for new and existing power plants issued in December 2011 are achieving reductions in fine particles and sulfur dioxide as a byproduct of controls required to cut toxic emissions.  
  • Vehicles and their fuels continue to be an important contributor to air pollution. EPA in 2014 issued standards commonly known as Tier 3, which consider the vehicle and its fuel as an integrated system, setting new vehicle emissions standards and a new gasoline sulfur standard beginning in 2017. The vehicle emissions standards will reduce both tailpipe and evaporative emissions from passenger cars, light-duty trucks, medium-duty passenger vehicles, and some heavy-duty vehicles. The gasoline sulfur standard will enable more stringent vehicle emissions standards and will make emissions control systems more effective. These rules further cut the sulfur content of gasoline. Cleaner fuel makes possible the use of new vehicle emission control technologies and cuts harmful emissions in existing vehicles. The standards will reduce atmospheric levels of ozone, fine particles, nitrogen dioxide, and toxic pollution.

Learn more about common pollutants, health effects, standards and implementation:

  • fine particles
  • ground-level ozone
  • sulfur dioxide
  • nitrogen dioxide
  • carbon monoxide

Air Pollution Challenges: Climate Change

EPA determined in 2009 that emissions of carbon dioxide and other long-lived greenhouse gases that build up in the atmosphere endanger the health and welfare of current and future generations by causing climate change and ocean acidification. Long-lived greenhouse gases , which trap heat in the atmosphere, include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases. These gases are produced by a numerous and diverse human activities.

In May 2010, the National Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, published an assessment which concluded that “climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for - and in many cases is already affecting - a broad range of human and natural systems.” 1 The NRC stated that this conclusion is based on findings that are consistent with several other major assessments of the state of scientific knowledge on climate change. 2

Climate change impacts on public health and welfare

The risks to public health and the environment from climate change are substantial and far-reaching. Scientists warn that carbon pollution and resulting climate change are expected to lead to more intense hurricanes and storms, heavier and more frequent flooding, increased drought, and more severe wildfires - events that can cause deaths, injuries, and billions of dollars of damage to property and the nation’s infrastructure.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollution leads to more frequent and intense heat waves that increase mortality, especially among the poor and elderly. 3 Other climate change public health concerns raised in the scientific literature include anticipated increases in ground-level ozone pollution 4 , the potential for enhanced spread of some waterborne and pest-related diseases 5 , and evidence for increased production or dispersion of airborne allergens. 6

Other effects of greenhouse gas pollution noted in the scientific literature include ocean acidification, sea level rise and increased storm surge, harm to agriculture and forests, species extinctions and ecosystem damage. 7 Climate change impacts in certain regions of the world (potentially leading, for example, to food scarcity, conflicts or mass migration) may exacerbate problems that raise humanitarian, trade and national security issues for the United States. 8

The U.S. government's May 2014 National Climate Assessment concluded that climate change impacts are already manifesting themselves and imposing losses and costs. 9 The report documents increases in extreme weather and climate events in recent decades, with resulting damage and disruption to human well-being, infrastructure, ecosystems, and agriculture, and projects continued increases in impacts across a wide range of communities, sectors, and ecosystems.

Those most vulnerable to climate related health effects - such as children, the elderly, the poor, and future generations - face disproportionate risks. 10 Recent studies also find that certain communities, including low-income communities and some communities of color (more specifically, populations defined jointly by ethnic/racial characteristics and geographic location), are disproportionately affected by certain climate-change-related impacts - including heat waves, degraded air quality, and extreme weather events - which are associated with increased deaths, illnesses, and economic challenges. Studies also find that climate change poses particular threats to the health, well-being, and ways of life of indigenous peoples in the U.S.

The National Research Council (NRC) and other scientific bodies have emphasized that it is important to take initial steps to reduce greenhouse gases without delay because, once emitted, greenhouse gases persist in the atmosphere for long time periods. As the NRC explained in a recent report, “The sooner that serious efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions proceed, the lower the risks posed by climate change, and the less pressure there will be to make larger, more rapid, and potentially more expensive reductions later.” 11

In brief: What EPA is doing about climate change

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is taking initial common sense steps to limit greenhouse gas pollution from large sources:

EPA and the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration between 2010 and 2012 issued the first national greenhouse gas emission standards and fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks for model years 2012-2025, and for medium- and heavy-duty trucks for 2014-2018.  Proposed truck standards for 2018 and beyond were announced in June 2015.  EPA is also responsible for developing and implementing regulations to ensure that transportation fuel sold in the United States contains a minimum volume of renewable fuel. Learn more about clean vehicles

EPA and states in 2011 began requiring preconstruction permits that limit greenhouse gas emissions from large new stationary sources - such as power plants, refineries, cement plants, and steel mills - when they are built or undergo major modification. Learn more about GHG permitting

  • On August 3, 2015, President Obama and EPA announced the Clean Power Plan – a historic and important step in reducing carbon pollution from power plants that takes real action on climate change. Shaped by years of unprecedented outreach and public engagement, the final Clean Power Plan is fair, flexible and designed to strengthen the fast-growing trend toward cleaner and lower-polluting American energy. With strong but achievable standards for power plants, and customized goals for states to cut the carbon pollution that is driving climate change, the Clean Power Plan provides national consistency, accountability and a level playing field while reflecting each state’s energy mix. It also shows the world that the United States is committed to leading global efforts to address climate change. Learn more about the Clean Power Plan, the Carbon Pollution Standards, the Federal Plan, and model rule for states

The Clean Power Plan will reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants, the nation’s largest source, while maintaining energy reliability and affordability.  The Clean Air Act creates a partnership between EPA, states, tribes and U.S. territories – with EPA setting a goal, and states and tribes choosing how they will meet it.  This partnership is laid out in the Clean Power Plan.

Also on August 3, 2015, EPA issued final Carbon Pollution Standards for new, modified, and constructed power plants, and proposed a Federal Plan and model rules to assist states in implementing the Clean Power Plan.

On February 9, 2016, the Supreme Court stayed implementation of the Clean Power Plan pending judicial review. The Court’s decision was not on the merits of the rule. EPA firmly believes the Clean Power Plan will be upheld when the merits are considered because the rule rests on strong scientific and legal foundations.

On October 16, 2017, EPA  proposed to repeal the CPP and rescind the accompanying legal memorandum.

EPA is implementing its Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions released in March 2014. In January 2015 EPA announced a new goal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 – 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025, and a set of actions by EPA and other agencies to put the U.S. on a path to achieve this ambitious goal. In August 2015, EPA proposed new common-sense measures to cut methane emissions, reduce smog-forming air pollution and provide certainty for industry through proposed rules for the oil and gas industry . The agency also proposed to further reduce emissions of methane-rich gas from municipal solid waste landfills . In March 2016 EPA launched the National Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program under which oil and gas companies can make, track and showcase ambitious commitments to reduce methane emissions.

EPA in July 2015 finalized a rule to prohibit certain uses of hydrofluorocarbons -- a class of potent greenhouse gases used in air conditioning, refrigeration and other equipment -- in favor of safer alternatives. The U.S. also has proposed amendments to the Montreal Protocol to achieve reductions in HFCs internationally.

Learn more about climate science, control efforts, and adaptation on EPA’s climate change web site

Air Pollution Challenges: Toxic Pollutants

While overall emissions of air toxics have declined significantly since 1990, substantial quantities of toxic pollutants continue to be released into the air. Elevated risks can occur in urban areas, near industrial facilities, and in areas with high transportation emissions.

Numerous toxic pollutants from diverse sources

Hazardous air pollutants, also called air toxics, include 187 pollutants listed in the Clean Air Act. EPA can add pollutants that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as reproductive effects or birth defects, or to cause adverse environmental effects.

Examples of air toxics include benzene, which is found in gasoline; perchloroethylene, which is emitted from some dry cleaning facilities; and methylene chloride, which is used as a solvent and paint stripper by a number of industries. Other examples of air toxics include dioxin, asbestos, and metals such as cadmium, mercury, chromium, and lead compounds.

Most air toxics originate from manmade sources, including mobile sources such as motor vehicles, industrial facilities and small “area” sources. Numerous categories of stationary sources emit air toxics, including power plants, chemical manufacturing, aerospace manufacturing and steel mills. Some air toxics are released in large amounts from natural sources such as forest fires.

Health risks from air toxics

EPA’s most recent national assessment of inhalation risks from air toxics 12 estimated that the whole nation experiences lifetime cancer risks above ten in a million, and that almost 14 million people in more than 60 urban locations have lifetime cancer risks greater than 100 in a million. Since that 2005 assessment, EPA standards have required significant further reductions in toxic emissions.

Elevated risks are often found in the largest urban areas where there are multiple emission sources, communities near industrial facilities, and/or areas near large roadways or transportation facilities. Benzene and formaldehyde are two of the biggest cancer risk drivers, and acrolein tends to dominate non-cancer risks.

In brief: How EPA is working with states and communities to reduce toxic air pollution

EPA standards based on technology performance have been successful in achieving large reductions in national emissions of air toxics. As directed by Congress, EPA has completed emissions standards for all 174 major source categories, and 68 categories of small area sources representing 90 percent of emissions of 30 priority pollutants for urban areas. In addition, EPA has reduced the benzene content in gasoline, and has established stringent emission standards for on-road and nonroad diesel and gasoline engine emissions that significantly reduce emissions of mobile source air toxics. As required by the Act, EPA has completed residual risk assessments and technology reviews covering numerous regulated source categories to assess whether more protective air toxics standards are warranted. EPA has updated standards as appropriate. Additional residual risk assessments and technology reviews are currently underway.

EPA also encourages and supports area-wide air toxics strategies of state, tribal and local agencies through national, regional and community-based initiatives. Among these initiatives are the National Clean Diesel Campaign , which through partnerships and grants reduces diesel emissions for existing engines that EPA does not regulate; Clean School Bus USA , a national partnership to minimize pollution from school buses; the SmartWay Transport Partnership to promote efficient goods movement; wood smoke reduction initiatives; a collision repair campaign involving autobody shops; community-scale air toxics ambient monitoring grants ; and other programs including Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE). The CARE program helps communities develop broad-based local partnerships (that include business and local government) and conduct community-driven problem solving as they build capacity to understand and take effective actions on addressing environmental problems.

Learn more about air toxics, stationary sources of emissions, and control efforts Learn more about mobile source air toxics and control efforts

Air Pollution Challenges: Protecting the Stratospheric Ozone Layer

The  ozone (O 3 ) layer  in the stratosphere protects life on earth by filtering out harmful ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun. When chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-degrading chemicals  are emitted, they mix with the atmosphere and eventually rise to the stratosphere. There, the chlorine and the bromine they contain initiate chemical reactions that destroy ozone. This destruction has occurred at a more rapid rate than ozone can be created through natural processes, depleting the ozone layer.

The toll on public health and the environment

Higher levels of  ultraviolet radiation  reaching Earth's surface lead to health and environmental effects such as a greater incidence of skin cancer, cataracts, and impaired immune systems. Higher levels of ultraviolet radiation also reduce crop yields, diminish the productivity of the oceans, and possibly contribute to the decline of amphibious populations that is occurring around the world.

In brief: What’s being done to protect the ozone layer

Countries around the world are phasing out the production of chemicals that destroy ozone in the Earth's upper atmosphere under an international treaty known as the Montreal Protocol . Using a flexible and innovative regulatory approach, the United States already has phased out production of those substances having the greatest potential to deplete the ozone layer under Clean Air Act provisions enacted to implement the Montreal Protocol. These chemicals include CFCs, halons, methyl chloroform and carbon tetrachloride. The United States and other countries are currently phasing out production of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), chemicals being used globally in refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment and in making foams. Phasing out CFCs and HCFCs is also beneficial in protecting the earth's climate, as these substances are also very damaging greenhouse gases.

Also under the Clean Air Act, EPA implements regulatory programs to:

Ensure that refrigerants and halon fire extinguishing agents are recycled properly.

Ensure that alternatives to ozone-depleting substances (ODS) are evaluated for their impacts on human health and the environment.

Ban the release of ozone-depleting refrigerants during the service, maintenance, and disposal of air conditioners and other refrigeration equipment.

Require that manufacturers label products either containing or made with the most harmful ODS.

These vital measures are helping to protect human health and the global environment.

The work of protecting the ozone layer is not finished. EPA plans to complete the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances that continue to be produced, and continue efforts to minimize releases of chemicals in use. Since ozone-depleting substances persist in the air for long periods of time, the past use of these substances continues to affect the ozone layer today. In our work to expedite the recovery of the ozone layer, EPA plans to augment CAA implementation by:

Continuing to provide forecasts of the expected risk of overexposure to UV radiation from the sun through the UV Index, and to educate the public on how to protect themselves from over exposure to UV radiation.

Continuing to foster domestic and international partnerships to protect the ozone layer.

Encouraging the development of products, technologies, and initiatives that reap co-benefits in climate change and energy efficiency.

Learn more About EPA’s Ozone Layer Protection Programs

Some of the following links exit the site

1 National Research Council (2010), Advancing the Science of Climate Change , National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., p. 3.

2 National Research Council (2010), Advancing the Science of Climate Change , National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., p. 286.

3 USGCRP (2009).  Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States . Karl, T.R., J.M. Melillo, and T.C. Peterson (eds.). United States Global Change Research Program. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, USA.

4 CCSP (2008).  Analyses of the effects of global change on human health and welfare and human systems . A Report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research. Gamble, J.L. (ed.), K.L. Ebi, F.G. Sussman, T.J. Wilbanks, (Authors). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, USA.

5 Confalonieri, U., B. Menne, R. Akhtar, K.L. Ebi, M. Hauengue, R.S. Kovats, B. Revich and A. Woodward (2007). Human health. In:  Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability  .  Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  Parry, M.L., O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, (eds.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

7 An explanation of observed and projected climate change and its associated impacts on health, society, and the environment is included in the EPA’s Endangerment Finding and associated technical support document (TSD). See EPA, “ Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act ,” 74 FR 66496, Dec. 15, 2009. Both the Federal Register Notice and the Technical Support Document (TSD) for Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings are found in the public docket, Docket No. EPA-OAR-2009-0171.

8 EPA, Endangerment Finding , 74 FR 66535.

9 . U.S. Global Change Research Program, Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment , May 2014.

10 EPA, Endangerment Finding , 74 FR 66498.

11 National Research Council (2011) America’s Climate Choices: Report in Brief , Committee on America’s Climate Choices, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., p. 2.

12 EPA, 2005 National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment (2011).

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Air Pollution and Climate Change: Interactions and Co-mitigation

Cover image for research topic "Air Pollution and Climate Change: Interactions and Co-mitigation"

Loading... Editorial 12 December 2022 Editorial: Air pollution and climate change: Interactions and co-mitigation Shupeng Zhu , Haofei Yu , Yuqiang Zhang , Yuzhong Zhang  and  Michael Mac Kinnon 1,560 views 0 citations

air pollution and climate change essay

Original Research 28 October 2022 Assessment of summertime ozone formation in the Sichuan Basin, southwestern China Xianyu Yang ,  7 more  and  Lei Wang 1,127 views 0 citations

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Original Research 03 August 2022 Identification of key controlling factors of ozone pollution in Jinan, northern China over 2013–2020 Di Liang ,  6 more  and  Wei Deng 1,767 views 1 citations

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Original Research 04 July 2022 Chemical Composition, Optical Properties and Sources of PM2.5 From a Highly Urbanized Region in Northeastern Mexico Karim Acuña Askar ,  9 more  and  F. E. Longoria-Rodríguez 2,083 views 1 citations

Original Research 29 June 2022 Multiple Models Used to Deconstruct the Characteristics of Atmospheric Particles in Arid Region of Northwest China Chao Liu ,  6 more  and  Xiang Li 595 views 0 citations

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Original Research 06 June 2022 Unexpected Methane Emissions From Old Small Fishing Vessels in China Lizhi Wang ,  9 more  and  Shu Tao 1,323 views 1 citations

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Original Research 26 April 2022 Effective Air Purification via Pt-Decorated N3-CNT Adsorbent Yinli Yang ,  4 more  and  Wei Liu 792 views 3 citations

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Original Research 13 April 2022 Microscopic Insights Into the Formation of Methanesulfonic Acid–Methylamine–Ammonia Particles Under Acid-Rich Conditions Min Liu ,  5 more  and  Jing Xu 1,669 views 2 citations

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Air pollution interacts with weather and climate extremes

Smokestacks in low-angled sunlight

Air pollution has a complex relationship with weather extremes. Credit: Pixabay

A new scientific review written by CPO-funded scientists explores the complex relationship between air pollution and weather/climate extremes such as extreme precipitation, floods, droughts, wildfires, and heat waves. Researchers Cenlin He and Wenfu Tang of the National Center for Atmospheric Research received support from CPO’s Atmospheric Chemistry, Carbon Cycle and Climate (AC4) Program, Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) Program and National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) to study impacts of fire and smoke at the wildland-urban interface as well as drivers of drought in the U.S. This review, published in Current Pollution Reports, provides this concise synthesis of recent scientific advances, current knowledge gaps, and future directions on air pollution interactions with extremes.

While the impact of these extremes on society, health, and ecosystems is well recognized, the role of air pollution in exacerbating or interacting with them is less understood. This paper highlights existing evidence suggesting that air pollutants, including aerosols and trace gases, can influence weather and climate systems through intricate interactions with meteorology and ecosystems.

Click to read the full article

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  • Published: 06 March 2024

Plastic pollution amplified by a warming climate

  • Xin-Feng Wei   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-7165-793X 1 ,
  • Wei Yang   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-0198-1632 2 &
  • Mikael S. Hedenqvist   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-6071-6241 1  

Nature Communications volume  15 , Article number:  2052 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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  • Climate-change impacts
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Climate change and plastic pollution are interconnected global challenges. Rising temperatures and moisture alter plastic characteristics, contributing to waste, microplastic generation, and release of hazardous substances. Urgent attention is essential to comprehend and address these climate-driven effects and their consequences.

Earth’s global average temperature has increased by approximately 1 °C above pre-industrial levels with a current rate of ca. 0.2 °C per decade, primarily due to huge greenhouse gas emissions 1 . The Paris Agreement’s target of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C is projected to be breached in the near term 2 . Extreme regional heatwaves are also showing immediate and marked temperature spikes, sometimes exceeding 10 °C above normal levels 3 . In 2022, extreme heatwaves led to temperature records in many regions (e.g., 40.3 °C in the United Kingdom and 49.1 °C at Smara (Morocco)) 4 . In 2023, the trend continued with July being the hottest month ever recorded 3 . The frequency, intensity, and duration of heatwaves have all increased 5 . In Phoenix, Arizona, during July 2023, all days except one, exhibited a maximum temperature exceeding 110 °F (43 °C) 3 . The high temperatures have caused severe impacts on ecosystems and societies, including excess mortality, wildfires, and harvest failures 4 . This will get even worse in the future as heatwaves are projected to be more intense, frequent, and prolonged due to the enhanced global warming 5 , and developing El Niño conditions 6 , 7 . In addition, a warmer atmosphere increases the evaporation of moisture and, with each 1 °C rise in temperature, saturated air can hold 7% more water vapor 8 . The average moisture content of the atmosphere has increased by approximately 4% since the 1970s 8 .

Deteriorated properties and increased waste

Polymer materials, mainly plastics and rubbers, are notably sensitive to temperature and moisture fluctuations. As temperatures rise, polymers undergo thermal expansion, leading to inferior properties 9 . Commonly used plastics like polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyvinyl chloride can experience an over 20% decrease in stiffness with a service temperature rise from 23/24 to 40 °C 10 , 11 . Time-dependent changes in mechanical properties, such as creep (slow deformation process of materials under constant or varying load), and stress relaxation (the decrease in stress response under sustained deformation), will also accelerate. Furthermore, rising temperatures negatively affect other important properties, such as gas and water vapor barrier properties in food packaging, essential for food preservation. For example, ethylene vinyl alcohol, a common gas barrier polymer, can experience a reduction of over 75 % in oxygen barrier efficiency as the temperature increases from 23 to 40 °C 12 , potentially leading to food spoilage.

In addition to these immediate effects, a warming climate speeds up long-term property loss due to accelerated ageing 9 . Polymers degrade/age over time from factors like heat, light, moisture, chemicals, and mechanical stress, involving oxidation, UV degradation, hydrolysis, biodegradation, and additive migration 9 , 13 . Temperature is a key factor in all these processes. According to the Arrhenius law, the degradation rate increases exponentially with increasing temperature – with a typical activation energy of 50 kJ/mol for plastic degradation, every 10-degree temperature rise doubles the degradation rate 13 .

For hygroscopic polymers, such as thermoplastic starch and other biopolymers, polyamides, and polyesters, moist conditions can add to the negative effects of rising temperature. Water is a powerful “plasticizer” in systems where the uptake is sizeable, leading to a softer and weaker material. Water uptake may also increase the creep rate and the risk of degradation through hydrolysis.

A warmer climate therefore exposes polymers to more challenging conditions, resulting in the deterioration of plastic properties in both the short and long terms. This leads to more frequent failures of plastic components and products, resulting in reduced durability and shorter service life. Consequently, failed products often need to be replaced, increasing the generation of plastic waste and exacerbating the problem of plastic pollution. Extensively degraded plastic waste is generally unsuitable for traditional recycling due to property loss, increasing the likelihood of such waste being excluded from current plastic waste management systems and ending up in both terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Escalated leaching risk of plastic-associated chemicals

Over 13,000 chemicals are associated with plastics and their production, and among them over 3,200 have been identified as potential concerns due to their hazardous properties 14 . These chemicals consist of residual monomers/oligomers from the polymerization process, compounds formed during polymer degradation, and a wide range of additives like lubricants, flame retardants, plasticizers, antioxidants, colorants, and UV/heat stabilizers 14 . These hazardous chemicals can be emitted and released throughout the plastic lifecycle, posing risks to ecosystems and humans. As temperatures rise, both the diffusion and evaporation rates of the species accelerate, intensifying the leaching of these substances into the air, soil, and water 15 . In addition, the accelerated ageing processes in a warmer climate result in faster production of hazardous degradation products 16 . This amplifies the risk of plastic-associated chemicals entering our ecosystems. As a common example, temperature significantly influences the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from automobile interior plastic and elastomer components, potentially causing ‘sick car syndrome’ 14 . In the case of hygroscopic polymers, the combination of high temperatures and high relative humidity may exacerbate the release of chemicals further.

Increased microplastic risk

Another concern regarding plastic pollution is the formation of microplastics (tiny particles under 5 mm), due to their persistence, wide distribution, and adverse effects. They originate from the manufacturing of plastics (primary sources) and the gradual degradation of plastic items (secondary sources) 17 . A warmer climate accelerates polymer degradation 9 and thus the breakdown of plastic items into smaller species, substantially expediting the generation of secondary microplastics. Accelerated ageing yields microplastics with a greater degree of degradation, which can increase their toxicity due to the accumulation of degradation products in the microplastic particles. The ageing process profoundly alters the physicochemical properties of these microplastics, subsequently affecting their environmental behaviors 16 . These changes encompass surface charge, biofilm formation, transportation, adsorption behaviors, and interactions with their surroundings 16 . For instance, as microplastics age, their surface roughness tends to increase and their hydrophobicity decreases. These changes make them more conducive to bacterial colonization and the subsequent formation of biofilms 16 . Therefore, the acceleration of plastic degradation, induced by a warmer climate, not only increases the rate at which microplastics are generated but also enhances the ecotoxicity of the formed microplastic particles. This further exacerbates the issue of microplastic pollution and poses long-lasting risks to living organisms in both terrestrial and aquatic environments. In aquatic environments, the rising water temperatures, often due to marine heatwaves and global warming, also hasten the degradation of plastic litter and the subsequent release of microplastics. Note that microplastics also experience accelerated ageing in a warming climate, which leads to quicker fragmentation into nanoplastics and their eventual disintegration. This implies that plastics have a reduced persistence in environments under conditions of climate warming.

Increased demands for plastics

Climate change may also significantly increase the demand for materials with the properties of plastics in various applications. With rising temperatures, the need for electrical appliances, such as air conditioners, fans, and refrigerators, all of which heavily rely on plastic components, escalates, as observed in Europe during hot summers 18 . Additionally, initiatives such as renewable energy projects, electrification of transportation, and climate-resilient infrastructure require a significant number of plastic components. Intensified climate-related disasters like wildfires, floods, hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons also contribute to plastic demand as they require plastics for reconstruction, emergency shelters, personal protective equipment (PPE), and humanitarian aid supplies. These disasters, unfortunately, lead to the widespread destruction of plastics in use, converting them into waste within the affected area on a massive scale. This heightened demand for plastics leads to increased production, consumption, and subsequent waste generation, exacerbating the issue of plastic pollution. Thus, carefully managing plastic use in climate projects is crucial, ensuring our efforts are both environmentally effective and sustainable in material use.

A vicious circle

To conclude, a warming climate has consequences for the use, ageing, and disposal of plastics, fueling plastic pollution with more waste generation, increased release of chemicals from plastics, and generation of more microplastics. On the other hand, the plastic industry is widely known as a significant contributor to emissions of greenhouse gases and, consequently, climate change 19 . This creates a paradoxical situation where the changing climate drives the demand for plastic, further contributing to plastic pollution, while at the same time, the increasing production of plastics and elastomers exacerbates climate change. Thus, a self-reinforcing cycle is formed, creating a vicious circle between climate change and plastic pollution (Fig. 1 ).

figure 1

The map in the upper left corner represents the air temperatures in the Eastern Hemisphere 13th of July, 2022 (Source: NASA Earth Observatory, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/150083/heatwaves-and-firesscorch-europe-africa-and-asia ).

Despite the significant role of climate change in intensifying plastic pollution 20 , this particular impact remains underemphasized. As global warming and heatwaves intensify, and with plastic production, usage, and waste reaching unprecedented levels, it is imperative that we urgently draw attention and mobilize efforts across all sectors involved in the plastic lifecycle. This encompasses the plastics manufacturing industry, sectors utilizing these materials such as electronics, construction, and food packaging, retailers, consumers, regulatory authorities, governments, environmental organizations, waste management services, and the academic and research community in both the plastics and environmental fields. Such collaboration is essential to enhance our understanding of how climate change affects plastic properties and pollution, both immediately and in the long term.

To effectively tackle the intertwined challenges of plastic pollution and climate change, we need a multi-dimensional strategy that encompasses global policy and regulation, technological advances, improved waste management, public engagement, and international collaboration. This approach should emphasize sustainable practices, economic incentives, community participation, and continual research to reduce environmental impacts effectively. For example, implementing a ban on single-use plastics, advocating for a circular economy through enhanced reuse and recycling of plastic items, and transitioning to alternative materials with lower carbon footprints and diminished environmental impacts, such as certain bio-based or biodegradable options, are crucial measures. These steps are critical in disrupting the vicious cycle of plastic pollution and climate change, addressing both issues collaboratively, and reducing their economic and environmental toll, ultimately leading to a more sustainable and resilient future.

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Wei, XF., Yang, W. & Hedenqvist, M.S. Plastic pollution amplified by a warming climate. Nat Commun 15 , 2052 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-024-46127-9

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air pollution and climate change essay

NASA Logo

Aerosols: Small Particles with Big Climate Effects

Aerosols are small particles or droplets that float in the air. They are emitted by both natural events and human activities. Some aerosols cool the climate, and others have a warming effect. Image credits, left to right: Saiho/Pixabay, olegkamenskij20120/Pixabay, USGS. Image design: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Aerosols are small particles in the air that can either cool or warm the climate, depending on the type and color of the particle.

We often think of aerosols as spray paint, insect repellant, or similar substances sprayed from a can. But aerosols are actually small particles or droplets that float in the air, and it turns out these little particles can have big effects on Earth’s climate.

Aerosols come in many forms. They can be natural, like wildfire smoke, volcanic gases, or salty sea spray. Human activities can also generate aerosols, such as particles of air pollution or soot.

The role of aerosols in climate science is complex. In general, light-colored particles in the atmosphere will reflect incoming sunlight and cause cooling. Dark-colored particles absorb sunlight and make the atmosphere warmer. Because different types of particles have different effects, aerosols are a hot topic in climate research.

Volcanoes Make Natural, Cooling Aerosols

Explosive volcanic eruptions can inject gases all the way into the stratosphere , which is the layer of the atmosphere that begins around 33,000 feet (10,000 meters) overhead.

Volcanoes emit sulfur dioxide gas, which combines with water in the atmosphere to form tiny particles that can circle the globe and stay in the air for a few years, depending on how big the plume is and how high it goes. These light-colored sulfate aerosols block incoming sunlight and cool the atmosphere. Mount Pinatubo’s enormous eruption in 1991 is a recent example. The sulfates from the eruption cooled the atmosphere by 0.7 to 0.9° F (0.4 to 0.5 °C) and made 1992 and 1993 the coolest years in the past 35 years.

Air-Pollution Aerosols Also Have a Cooling Effect

Burning fossil fuels releases sulfate particles and sulfur dioxide (SO 2 ) which, like volcanic aerosols, can reflect sunlight and make the atmosphere cooler. Unlike volcanic aerosols, air pollution does not travel very high in the atmosphere, so it only lasts for 3 to 5 days. But air pollution aerosols are produced continuously, so these particles are a constant presence.

In an ironic twist of climate science, air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels has a slight cooling effect on the planet, which is the opposite of the warming caused by greenhouse gases. But there’s nothing beneficial about air pollution for the environment or human life. Air polluted by fossil fuels leads to the premature death of around 8 million people globally each year. Tiny particles emitted during fossil fuel combustion can be inhaled, and they can cause asthma, respiratory infections, lung cancer, and heart disease.

The COVID-19 pandemic showed what can happen if the humans reduce their aerosol pollution. Fossil-fueled air travel, driving, electricity use, and industrial activity all decreased sharply in the spring of 2020. This led to cleaner, clearer air, which caused a slight warming -- up to 0.2 to 0.5° F (0.1 to 0.3° C) -- in some places. But at the same time, this reduction in air pollution was estimated to have saved 11,000 lives in Europe and 77,000 lives in China. And people in some cities enjoyed clear horizons and views for the first time in years.

Soot Is a Dark-Colored Aerosol That Warms the Climate

Soot is made of dark particles of carbon from burning fossil fuels, wood, or other plant matter. These dark particles absorb sunlight and warm the atmosphere. Soot leads to additional warming when it settles onto snow and ice because it makes the surface darker, which causes faster melting.

Wildfires, cooking fires, industrial activities, and diesel engines are major sources of soot. Reducing soot emissions would have a quick cooling effect on the atmosphere, which would bring the added benefit of improving human health.

Aerosols and Clouds Are at the Forefront of Climate Science

Scientists are working to better understand the ways aerosols interact with clouds. Some aerosols from human pollution can change the size or lifetime of water droplets inside clouds. When water droplets become smaller, clouds reflect more sunlight. Overall, this has a cooling effect on the atmosphere. Similarly, some aerosols like dust can influence how ice particles form in colder clouds. This is an area of active research, so stay tuned for updates as the science develops.

The Warming Effect of Greenhouse Gases Is Larger Than the Cooling Effect of Air Pollution

If not for aerosol pollution, Earth would be even warmer than it already is. Aerosol air pollution has made the planet about 0.7° F (0.4 °C) cooler than it otherwise would be, according to the 2021 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). For comparison, greenhouse gas emissions have added 2.7°F (1.5°C) of warming.

This makes for an interesting predicament. It might seem that air pollution is oddly helpful to counteract climate change. But that doesn’t mean we need air pollution to keep the world slightly cooler. As people and economies shift to energy forms that emit less particulate pollution, there will be a gradual reduction in air pollution aerosols, which could cause a temporary warming effect. Because these changes will occur gradually over several decades, it’s unlikely to cause much of a temperature rise.

Over the long haul, reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases will more than make up for any temporary warming. Plus, cleaner air will save millions of lives.

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NASA aerosol visualization showing smoke plumes, dust clouds, and salt spray from tropical storms

Check your understanding of clouds and aerosols with a NASA quiz from the Know Your Earth series.

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  • Climate Science
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Research scientist Sujung Go analyzes atmospheric data to help humanity and the environment. Name: Sujung Go Title: Research scientist Organization: Climate and Radiation Laboratory, Earth Sciences Division, Science Directorate (Code 613) What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard? I work in the team of Dr. Alexei Lyapustin […]

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An electric vehicle is seen charging in Manhattan, New York

Tom Krisher, Associated Press Tom Krisher, Associated Press

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As electric vehicle sales slow, U.S. relaxes plans for stricter auto emissions standards

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration this week is expected to announce new automobile emissions standards that relax proposed limits for three years but eventually reach the same strict standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The changes come as sales of zero-tailpipe emissions electric vehicles, needed to meet the standards, have begun to slow. The auto industry has cited lower sales growth in objecting to the EPA’s preferred standards unveiled last April as part of the most ambitious plan ever to cut planet-warming emissions from passenger vehicles.

The EPA suggested that under its preferred alternative, the industry could meet the limits if 67 percent of new vehicle sales are electric by 2032.

But during a public comment period on the standards for 2027 through 2032, the auto industry called the benchmarks unworkable with EV sales slowing as consumers worry about cost, range and a lack of publicly available charging stations.

WATCH: Why major car manufacturers are slowing production of electric vehicles

Three people with knowledge of the standards say the Biden EPA will pick an alternative that slows implementation from 2027 through 2029, but ramps up to reach the level the EPA preferred from 2030 to 2032. The alternative will have other modifications that help the auto industry meet the standards, including the calculation of how EV fuel economy is measured, one of the people said.

The people, two from the auto industry and one from the government, didn’t want to be identified because the new standards haven’t been made public by the EPA.

The changes appear aimed at addressing strong industry opposition to the accelerated ramp-up of EVs, along with public reluctance to fully embrace the new technology. There is also a legitimate threat of legal challenges before conservative courts.

The Supreme Court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, has increasingly reined in the powers of federal agencies, including the EPA, in recent years. The justices have restricted the EPA’s authority to fight air and water pollution — including a landmark 2022 ruling that limited the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that contribute to global warming.

Biden has made fighting climate change a hallmark of his presidency and is seeking to slash carbon dioxide emissions from gasoline-powered vehicles, which make up the largest single source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, Biden needs cooperation from the auto industry and political support from auto workers, a key political voting bloc. The United Auto Workers union , which has endorsed Biden, has said it favors the transition to electric vehicles but wants to make sure jobs are preserved and that industry pays top wages to workers who build the EVs and batteries .

READ MORE: Cold weather can cut electric vehicle range and make charging tough. Here’s what you need to know

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that White House officials “don’t have any concerns” about the EPA rule, which could be announced as soon as Wednesday.

“We know, with these types of things, it takes time,” she told reporters on Air Force One as Biden travels to Nevada. “But we’re still going to stay committed to our (climate) goals.”

Generally, environmental groups have been optimistic about the new EPA plan.

Manish Bapna, president of Natural Resources Defense Council, told reporters last week that he expects the rule will significantly cut carbon emissions from cars and light-duty trucks, which are the source of one-fifth of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“Based on what we hear, there’s no reason to doubt that the climate rules for cars and light-duty trucks are going to cut well over 90 percent of the carbon pollution from new cars, SUVs and pickup trucks’’ over the next few decades, Bapna said. “That’s huge.″

Between 2027 and 2055, the EPA rule “will prevent more than 70 billion tons of climate wrecking carbon emissions. That’s more than the nation generates in a year. It’s absolutely essential, real, concrete progress,’’ Bapna said.

“EPA’s clean car standards will put the pedal to the metal as the U.S. races to achieve cleaner, healthier air for everyone,” said Amanda Leland, executive director of Environmental Defense Fund, another environmental group.

READ MORE: Interior Department will give tribal nations $120 million to fight climate-related threats

Tailpipes release dangerous particle pollution and smog and are one of the largest sources of climate pollution in the nation, Leland said. “Strong clean car standards help provide cleaner air and a safer climate, thousands of dollars in cost savings for our families and hundreds of thousands of new jobs in U.S. manufacturing.″

Luke Tonachel, an automobile expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the new clean-car standards will encourage the auto industry to “continue investing, as it’s already starting to do, over the long-term period″ in EV and zero-emission vehicles. The rule also will send a signal to infrastructure providers and utilities to keep building out the charging infrastructure,’’ he said.

But Dan Becker at the Center for Biological Diversity, said he fears loopholes will let the industry continue to sell gas burners. He also is afraid the industry will get off with doing little during the first three years of the standards, which could be undone if Donald Trump is elected president.

“The bottom line is that the administration is caving to pressure from big oil, big auto and the dealers to stall progress on EVs and now allow more pollution from cars,” Becker said.

At a Detroit-area rally in September, Trump insisted Biden’s embrace of electric vehicles — a key component of his clean-energy agenda — would ultimately lead to lost jobs. “He’s selling you out to China, he’s selling you out to the environmental extremists and the radical left,” Trump told his crowd.

Republicans and some in the industry have said the rule would require that 67 percent of new vehicle sales be electric by 2032, forcing people to buy cars, trucks and SUVs that they aren’t yet ready to accept.

READ MORE: SEC approves rule that requires some companies to publicly report emissions and climate risks

But EPA Administrator Michael Regan has said the new rule is a performance standard that leaves it to industry to come up with solutions.

U.S. electric vehicle sales grew 47 percent last year to a record 1.19 million as EV market share rose from 5.8 percent in 2022 to 7.6 percent. But EV sales growth slowed toward the end of the year. In December, they rose 34 percent.

The Alliance for Auto Innovation, a large industry trade group, said in a news release that the ramp up to 67 percent initially proposed by the EPA is too fast for the industry to achieve. The EPA’s pace of EV adoption is faster than President Joe Biden’s goal of electric vehicles being half of U.S. new vehicle sales by 2030, the group said.

“Where we are (or aren’t) in 2032 is unclear at this point,” the group said. “But moderating the pace of EV adoption in 2027, 2028, 2029 and 2030 would be the right call because it prioritizes more reasonable and achievable electrification targets in the next few (very critical) years.”

The EPA’s preferred standards take carbon dioxide emissions from 152 grams per mile in 2026 to 73 in 2032, a 52 percent reduction. The limits would reach 99 grams per mile by 2029.

But under the alternative that environmental groups expect the EPA to adopt, the standards would be eased in the first three years, reaching 112 grams by 2029 but still hitting 73 in 2032.

AP Auto Writer Tom Krisher reported from Detroit. AP reporter Seung Min Kim on Air Force One contributed to this story.

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    Feedbacks between air pollutants and meteorology play a crucial role in the direction of the response of future climate and air pollution. These feedbacks are important to understand and quantify the potential impact of adaptation and mitigation policies setup for protecting the population against air pollution and heat stress. We review the interactions between climate and air pollution, with ...

  16. Climate change and air pollution

    Climate changes might induce negative effects on respiratory allergic diseases favoring the increased length and severity of pollen season, the higher occurrence of heavy precipitation events, and the increasing frequency of urban air pollution episodes. However, the relationship between air pollution, pollen exposure, and respiratory allergy ...

  17. Air Pollution: Everything You Need to Know

    In addition, climate change increases the production of allergenic air pollutants, including mold (thanks to damp conditions caused by extreme weather and increased flooding) and pollen (due to a ...

  18. Environmental and Health Impacts of Air Pollution: A Review

    Climate and Pollution. Air pollution and climate change are closely related. ... As a result, the main proposal of this essay is that we should focus on fostering local structures to promote experience and practice and extrapolate these to the international level through developing effective policies for sustainable management of ecosystems.

  19. How cities are tackling the silent killer of air pollution

    Air pollution kills 13 people globally every minute. Cities are waking up to this fact, and now these initiatives are making progress to cut air pollution. ... has highlighted the need to engage subnational climate and health leaders. As momentum grows, it is vital that cities, national governments, advocates and the private sector work ...

  20. Climate Change and Air Pollution in China

    Air pollution and carbon dioxide are different things in China. For example, Chinese people start to care about clean coal, but "clean" here means low sulfur. One Chinese clean energy target is to increase natural gas to 10% of the power mix, but policy makers ignore its environmental effect on global warming.

  21. All but 7 Countries on Earth Have Air Pollution Above WHO Standard

    One notable change in 2023 was a 6.3 percent increase in China's air pollution compared with 2022, after at least five years of improvement. Beijing experienced a 14 percent increase in PM2.5 ...

  22. Air Pollution: Current and Future Challenges

    Outdoor air pollution challenges facing the United States today include: Meeting health-based standards for common air pollutants. Limiting climate change. Reducing risks from toxic air pollutants. Protecting the stratospheric ozone layer against degradation. Indoor air pollution, which arises from a variety of causes, also can cause health ...

  23. Global Air Pollution and Climate Change

    Mankind has now demonstrated that it can change the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale. Those consequences of global air pollution which may have the greatest impact on society in the decades ahead are the associated changes in the radiation balance of the earth and atmosphere and the resulting change of climate. Carbon dioxide increase from the burning of fossil fuels at a ...

  24. Air Pollution and Climate Change: Interactions and Co-mitigation

    This Research Topic collected a total of 17 papers, which can be largely divided into the following Four areas. 1) Feedback between climate change and air pollution, a total of four papers, including interactions between meteorology, emissions, pollutant formation, and emissions mitigation. 2) Interactions between air quality and other ...

  25. Air pollution interacts with weather and climate extremes

    Published March 5, 2024. Air pollution has a complex relationship with weather extremes. Credit: Pixabay. A new scientific review written by CPO-funded scientists explores the complex relationship between air pollution and weather/climate extremes such as extreme precipitation, floods, droughts, wildfires, and heat waves. Researchers Cenlin He ...

  26. Plastic pollution amplified by a warming climate

    Climate change and plastic pollution are interconnected global challenges. Rising temperatures and moisture alter plastic characteristics, contributing to waste, microplastic generation, and ...

  27. Health Effects of Fossil Fuel-Derived Endocrine Disruptors

    Chemical pollution is driven by the extraction, production, and use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), and fossil fuels are also the primary driver of climate change. 5 Many fossil fuel ...

  28. Is China a climate saint or villain?

    A decade ago public complaints about air pollution grew so loud that the state was forced to act. It quickly imposed anti-pollution measures, though not the type of broad reforms that would lead ...

  29. Aerosols: Small Particles with Big Climate Effects

    If not for aerosol pollution, Earth would be even warmer than it already is. Aerosol air pollution has made the planet about 0.7° F (0.4 °C) cooler than it otherwise would be, according to the 2021 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). For comparison, greenhouse gas emissions have added 2.7°F (1.5°C) of warming.

  30. As electric vehicle sales slow, U.S. relaxes plans for stricter auto

    The justices have restricted the EPA's authority to fight air and water pollution — including a landmark 2022 ruling that limited the EPA's authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions ...