Climate change will cause more deaths from air pollution, study finds

New research estimates that if climate change goes unchecked 60,000 more people will die globally from air pollution in 2030 – just 13 years away.

New research estimates that if climate change goes unchecked 60,000 more people will die globally from air pollution in 2030—just 13 years away. The figure rises to more than 260,000 people in 2100 due to climate change’s effect on global air pollution.

Broken down, the figures show 3340 deaths from increased ozone levels in 2030, rising to 43,600 in 2100; and 55,600 deaths due to increased particulate matter in the atmosphere in 2030, rising to 215,000 in 2100.

The study, published today in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Climate Change and led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA, uses data from nine global chemistry-climate models to show that climate change will have a significant impact on health worldwide. Previous studies used single atmospheric models. 

NIWA atmospheric scientist Dr Guang Zeng performed simulations using the sophisticated chemistry-climate model that she helped develop while at Cambridge University in the UK. Dr Zeng generated global surface ozone concentrations for climate change scenarios projected for 2030 and 2100.

Taking into account population growth and expected changes in susceptibility to air pollution, the study authors found climate change will increase air pollution-related deaths all over the world except for Africa.

Higher temperatures speed up the chemical reactions that create air pollutants like ozone and fine particulate matter, which impact public health. Locations that get drier may also have worse air pollution because of less removal by rain, and increased fires and more windblown dust.

Dr Zeng warned that New Zealand will not be immune to the changes projected to happen under climate change. 

“Climate change is a global phenomenon which will lead to a drying and warming of some polluted regions, causing ozone and particulate matter to increase. While New Zealand’s remoteness means it is relatively unaffected by ozone air pollution, it does suffer from some urban particulate pollution.”

In addition to exacerbating air pollution-related deaths, climate change is expected to affect health through changes in heat stress, access to clean water and food, severe storms and the spread of infectious diseases. 

However, the study also notes that climate change mitigation is likely to reduce air pollution related mortality.

“Actions to mitigate climate change, such as reductions in long-lived greenhouse gas emissions, are likely to benefit human health by reducing the effect of climate change on air quality in many locations.”

Read the paper: Future global mortality from changes in air pollution attributable to climate change

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