Tackle air quality and climate change together – The World Meteorological Organization

In their newly published Air Quality and Climate Bulletin, The World Meteorological Organization has highlighted air quality’s relationship with hot weather and called for air quality and climate change to be treated as connected parts of the same problem. 

Based on 2022 data, the report shows how heatwaves and desert dust  were behind a dangerous drop in air quality last year, leading to more ozone pollution, increased concentrations harmful particulates and reactive gases such as nitrogen oxides.

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In Europe, hundreds of air quality monitoring sites registered levels exceeding the WHO’s ozone air quality guideline levels of 100 µg m³ over an eight-hour exposure.

WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas said: ‘Heatwaves worsen air quality, with knock-on effects on human health, ecosystems, agriculture and indeed our daily lives. Climate change and air quality cannot be treated separately. They go hand-in-hand and must be tackled together to break this vicious cycle.’

Prof. Taalas points out that while this report refers to meteorological events from 2022, this year has proved to be even more extreme, ‘July was the hottest ever month on record, with intense heat in many parts of the northern hemisphere and this continued through August.’

Until recently, the widescale air quality impact of wildfires has been little understood, but the report draws on new research that examined the deposition of compounds containing nitrogen, downwind of major fire events, finding them to seriously impact biodiversity, drinking water and air quality

Prof. Taalas said: ‘Wildfires have roared through huge swathes of Canada, caused tragic devastation and death in Hawaii, and also inflicted major damage and casualties in the Mediterranean region. This has caused dangerous air quality levels for many millions of people, and sent plumes of smoke across the Atlantic and into the Arctic.

Dr Lorenzo Labrador, a WMO scientific officer in the Global Atmosphere Watch network which compiled the Bulletin said: ‘Heatwaves and wildfires are closely linked. Smoke from wildfires contains a witch’s brew of chemicals that affects not only air quality and health, but also damages plants, ecosystems and crops – and leads to more carbon emissions and so more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.’


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