Compounds Of Concern _Schmale

Air pollution is a huge problem worldwide, killing
millions of people each year. Further warming will only increase
the size of the problem, according to a
Nature article

It’s time efforts to curb soot, ozone and other pollutants in
the atmosphere got more attention at an international level, the
researchers argue.

Getting serious about air pollution could provide the impetus
needed to tackle climate change more effectively.

Airborne killers

Methane, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and soot (or
black carbon) all contribute to poor air quality.

Air pollution is already the
leading environmental cause
of ill-health, leading to about
seven million premature deaths each year from respiratory and
circulatory illnesses.

Earlier today, the European Council
ruled the UK must take urgent action

to address dangerous levels of air pollution. A number of
major cities, including London, are lagging behind
targets to reduce nitrogen dioxide to legal limits by the January
2015 deadline.

The burden of ill-health is
likely to increase in cities
by mid century,
as air pollution interacts with further greenhouse gas warming,
research shows.

Impacts of common air pollutants for human health,
the climate and agriculture. Source:
Schmale et al. (2014)

A call for action

A letter in the journal Nature, published today
and penned by scientists working at US, Swiss and German institutes
for sustainability research, says current air quality laws fall far
below what’s needed.

Existing measures to reduce air pollutants are
expected to prevent about two million premature deaths by 2040, say
the researchers. But more stringent measures aimed at halving black
carbon, methane and other pollutants by 2030 could save an extra 40
million lives, as the red line in the left hand graph below


The benefits of cleaner air for reducing premature
deaths and slowing global temperature rise. Source:
Schmale et al. (2014)

suggests an ambitious programme to cut
air pollutants could save fifty million tonnes of crops from ozone
damage each year, and slow warming about 0.5 degrees Celsius by
mid-century, shown by the dark blue line on the left-hand

That sounds good, but there are almost no
regulatory obligations to report black carbon emissions. Some parts
of the world are cleaning up their act, with reductions in parts of
North America, Europe, northeast and southeast Asia and the
Pacific. But these will be cancelled out by increases in south,
west and central Asia and Africa, with little change overall by

As for methane, which is also a powerful
greenhouse gas, the paper says:

“Anthropogenic emissions
of methane are predicted to increase by about 25 per cent (more
than 70 million tonnes annually) by 2030, yet the gas is hardly
regulated at all.”

So why aren’t we doing more?

Slow progress

There are some programmes in place to tackle air
pollution. The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC)
is a global network supported by 42 countries,
the European Commission, and more than 50 non-governmental
organisations worldwide, including the World Bank and the World
Meteorological Organisation.

The Arctic
, which is an international forum for
Arctic governments and peoples, has a task force to
reduce black carbon and methane emissions in the region. So far
Norway is the only member to adopt a national air pollution
strategy, but it’s hoped the council’s next meeting in early 2015
could lead to a regional mitigation plan.

Such efforts require scaling up, the paper says.
What’s needed is a broader approach that can join up efforts to
tackle air pollution with wider measures to address climate change.
At the moment, the paper warns progress towards both is hampered by
“fragmented policies”.

Tackling both at once could reap benefits, the
paper explains. For example, electric cars powered from renewable
sources curb air pollution in the short term, and reduce demand for
carbon-intensive fuel.

This kind of joined up thinking could avoid legislation in one
area cancelling out progress in the other. The paper warns that
some strategies to cut carbon emissions could worsen air pollution,
and vice versa. For example:

“[C]limate policies that
encourage combined heat and power plants with low power capacities
for cities – thus potentially exempting them from air-quality
regulations – should be avoided.”

Not an ‘either-or’ situation

While it is of global importance, cutting air
pollution shouldn’t happen at the expense of action to reduce
carbon dioxide. Action on both is needed, the paper

“This is not an ‘either
or’ decision … It’s important that steps to limit [air
pollutants] do not distract from carbon dioxide mitigation, and
vice versa … That said, the scientific community must speak out
against recommendations – explicit or implicit – to exclude [air
pollutants] from discussions of climate change mitigation or to
delay their reduction.”

International climate negotiations need to
pursue their primary mission to reduce carbon dioxide for the
climate’s sake, the paper concludes. But the
bottom line from the authors is that the stakes are too high for
air pollution to continue taking so much of a back seat.

Source: Schmale, J. et al. (2014) Clean up our