As summer subsides, WMO identifies future heatwave air quality risk

With 2022 seeing record temperatures and devastating wildfires across North America and Europe, experts predict increased prevalence of both with significant implications for the atmosphere, and human health. 

A rise in frequency, length and intensity of heatwaves is expected for the remainder of this century, in turn increasing the risk of wildfires and – as a result – worsening air quality across the planet, according to a report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). 

The stark warning features in the annual WMO Air Quality and Climate Bulletin, which points to a ‘climate penalty’ that hundreds of millions would need to suffer as a result of changing conditions placing more parts of the world at the frontline of the environmental crisis.

white and blue desk fan

‘As the globe warms, wildfires and associated air pollution are expected to increase, even under a low emissions scenario,’ said Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General. ‘In addition to human health impacts, this will also affect ecosystems as air pollutants settle from the atmosphere to Earth’s surface.’  

Ozone levels are understood to be a major contributor to heatwaves, and are expected to grow significantly once temperatures hit 3C above pre-industrial levels – a possibility in the second half of the 21st Century. Heavily polluted areas like Pakistan, which is still picking up the pieces from a catastrophic monsoon season linked to climate change, northern India, Bangladesh, and eastern China are likely to be among the worst impacted. 

However, the implications of rising temperatures, associated heatwaves and fires have been felt in numerous regions this year. Already, 2022 has seen record temperatures trigger major blazes across many countries in Europe – including Portugal, where smoke from forest fires recently impacted air quality in the Spanish capital, Madrid, some 250miles from the source, and the UK. Meanwhile, at the time of writing, the US West Coast is continuing to battle widespread flames that have claimed numerous lives and seen air pollution skyrocket. 

Image: George Chandrinos


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1 year ago

Very serious, the last few lines really stand out. Thank you. Even the UK needs to be prepared but what can we do?

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