Reducing air pollution mitigates climate change

Measures aiming at reducing air pollutants like ozone and particulate matter (PM) will help reduce global warming, a recent conference concluded.

Air pollution by ground-level ozone is well-known due to its harmful effects on health and vegetation – but ozone is also the third most important greenhouse gas. Particulate matter (PM), another generally known health-damaging air pollutant, includes black carbon (also known as soot), which is a major contributor to global warming.

Consequently, measures aimed at reducing these air pollutants will also help reduce global climate change.

Similarly, by reducing the use of fossil fuels, abatement measures for cutting emissions of the major greenhouse gas carbon dioxide will automatically also reduce emissions of several air pollutants, including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

These and many other interactions between air pollution and climate change were intensively debated at an international Air & Climate conference, held in Gothenburg, Sweden, on 19–21 October. The conference was attended by more than 200 leading environmental researchers, experts and policy-makers.

Their conclusions include recommendations on how the impact of air pollution on the climate can be addressed within the various conventions.
“By taking the right measures, we can ensure significant improvements for both air quality and the climate, at a considerably lower overall cost,” said Anna Engleryd, from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the main organiser of the conference.

The conference recommended among other things that the climate effects of air pollutants and short-lived climate-forcing gases, including methane, black carbon and carbon monoxide, should be addressed under the ongoing revision of the Gothenburg Protocol of the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP).

Another recommendation was that the LRTAP Convention and the United Nations Environment Programme should explore the need for a northern hemispheric treaty to reduce levels of ground-level ozone.

A number of specific measures were discussed, such as the replacement of open fires for cooking food with alternatives that do not create such large emissions of soot, and the mandatory fitting of particulate traps to all types of diesel engines.

Christer Ågren

The presentations, conclusions and recommendations from the conference are available at: For the Air & Climate conference, a special 168-page book entitled “Air Pollution & Climate change – two sides of the same coin” was produced with the aim to aid the understanding of the important links between air pollution and climate change, and highlight the prospects and benefits of co-controlling them.

The book can be ordered from:

To a substantial extent, air pollutants and greenhouse gases are emitted from the same sources. As such, a well-designed climate change mitigation strategy can have co-benefits in terms of improved air quality. Similarly, an optimal strategy to decrease air pollution is likely to help combat climate change. With a combined approach we can reduce control costs and avoid major irreversible impacts on society and ecosystems if we act now.

Except from the preface of the book “Air Pollution & Climate change – two sides of the same coin”. The preface is signed by Jaqueline McGlade (Executive Director, European Environment Agency), Andreas Carlgren (Minister for the Environment, Sweden) and Maria Ågren (Director General, Swedish EPA).

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