Exploring the links between climate, air quality and our health.
A complicated, interconnected picture.
Poor air quality is one of the leading environmental risk factors to human health, with an estimated 4 million annual premature mortalities worldwide and approximately 30,000 annual premature mortalities in the UK attributed to long-term exposure to outdoor air pollutants. Elevated concentrations of certain pollutants can also lead to other environmental impacts, including poor visibility, reduced crop yields and damage to buildings and vegetation. Poor air quality episodes can cover geographic areas from a single city to larger regions, and normally last from days to weeks.
Certain air pollutants (such as ozone (O3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5)) are also ‘radiatively active’, which means they can influence the climate by providing additional warming or cooling. These pollutants are identified as short-lived climate forcers (SLCFs) because they reside in the atmosphere for a short period of time (less than 1 year), meaning their impact on climate is also shorter (within 2 decades) than long-lived greenhouse gases such as carbon-dioxide (CO2).
Climate change can also influence the concentrations of air pollutants, with warmer temperatures projected to have detrimental impacts on surface air quality across several regions (e.g., South Asia) in the future. It is also expected to increase the frequency of hot and cold weather events, which may also adversely impact our health. This leads to a complicated, interconnected picture between health, air quality and climate, where future changes to one can strongly impact the other.