A blistering heat wave is baking the western United States, the latest to blast the northern hemisphere in a summer that has brought extreme temperatures across Europe, Asia and North America

Heat waves and wildfires exacerbate air pollution: UN

Scorching heat scorches the western United States, the last to hit the northern hemisphere in a summer that brought extreme temperatures to Europe, Asia and North America – Copyright AFP Genya SAVILOV

More frequent and intense heatwaves and wildfires driven by climate change are expected to worsen the quality of the air we breathe, harming human health and ecosystems, the UN warned on Wednesday.

A new report from the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warns that the interaction between pollution and climate change will affect hundreds of millions of people over the next century and calls for harm reduction action.

The annual WMO Air Quality and Climate Bulletin studied the effects of major wildfires in Siberia and western North America in 2021 and found that they led to a widespread increase in health hazards, with concentrations in Eastern Siberia reaching “previously unobserved levels “.

Tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) are considered particularly harmful because they can penetrate deep into the lungs or circulatory system.

“As the globe warms, wildfires and associated air pollution are expected to increase, even under a low emission scenario,” WMO chief Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

“In addition to the impact on human health, it will also affect ecosystems as air pollutants are deposited from the atmosphere onto the Earth’s surface.”

– “Foretaste of the future” –

Globally, over the past two decades, there has been a reduction in the total area of ​​fires as a result of a decrease in the number of fires in savannahs and grasslands.

But the WMO said some regions, such as western North America, the Amazon and Australia, are seeing many more fires.

Even beyond wildfires, hotter climates can lead to pollution and poor air quality.

Taalas noted that strong heatwaves in Europe and China this year, combined with consistently high atmospheric conditions, sunshine and low wind speeds, “contributed to high levels of pollution,” warning that “it’s a foretaste of the future.”

“We expect a further increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of heatwaves, which could lead to even more deterioration in air quality,” he said.

This phenomenon is known as the “climate penalty,” which refers to how climate change amplifies the production of ground-level ozone, which negatively impacts air quality.

In the stratosphere, ozone provides important protection against cancer-causing ultraviolet rays, but closer to the ground it is very dangerous to human health.

If emission levels remain high, this climate penalty is expected to be “a fifth of the total increase in ground-level ozone,” WMO scientist Lorenzo Labrador told reporters.

He warned that most of this increase will occur in Asia, “where about a quarter of the world’s population lives.”

WMO called for action, emphasizing that “a global carbon-neutral scenario will limit the occurrence of future episodes of extreme ozone air pollution.”

The report notes that air quality and climate are intertwined, as air quality-damaging chemicals are usually emitted along with greenhouse gases.

“Changes in one inevitably cause changes in the other,” the post reads.

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