The United Nations’ weather agency, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), has issued a warning that the dangers of air pollution, stemming from climate change, are often overlooked in the global effort to combat global warming. According to the WMO, air quality and rising temperatures are interconnected, and addressing both issues simultaneously is crucial.
In its third annual Air Quality and Climate Bulletin released recently, the WMO highlighted the relationship between heatwaves and air quality. The report pointed out that heatwaves exacerbated air quality problems, leading to adverse impacts on human health, ecosystems, agriculture, and daily life.
One striking example from the report was how heatwaves triggered wildfires in the northwestern United States, while high temperatures combined with desert dust resulted in hazardous air quality in Europe in 2022. WMO Secretary-General Prof Petteri Taalas emphasized the need to address climate change and air quality together, recognizing their interconnectedness.
Dr. Lorenzo Labrador, a WMO scientific officer, highlighted the detrimental effects of wildfire smoke, describing it as a “witch’s brew” of chemicals that not only harm air quality and health but also damage plants, ecosystems, crops, and contribute to more carbon emissions.
The report emphasized that substances responsible for climate change and air quality degradation often come from the same sources and that changes in one area inevitably affect the other. In 2022, numerous air quality monitoring sites exceeded the World Health Organization’s ozone air quality guideline due to high temperatures and desert dust over Europe.
Furthermore, the report noted that ozone-induced crop losses globally averaged between 4.4% and 12.4% for staple food crops. Key agricultural areas in India and China experienced even higher losses, with wheat and soybean losses reaching up to 15% to 30%.
The WMO report underlined how heatwaves and dry conditions create conditions conducive to wildfires, which, in turn, lead to increased aerosol emissions. However, it also stressed the positive impact of parks and tree-covered urban areas on air quality, carbon dioxide absorption, and temperature reduction.
Additionally, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), the EU’s climate monitoring service, reported that June to August 2023 was the warmest globally on record, with an average temperature of 16.77°C, significantly exceeding the average. This data underscores the urgent need for action to address climate change as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that “climate breakdown has begun,” and Samantha Burgess, C3S deputy director, stated that “we will continue to see more climate records and more intense and frequent extreme weather events” until greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced.
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