Heatwaves and wildfires to worsen air pollution: UN
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A new report from the UN's World Meteorological Organization (WMO) cautioned that the interaction between pollution and climate change would impact hundreds of millions of people over the coming century, and urged action to rein in the harm.
The WMO's annual Air Quality and Climate Bulletin examined the impacts of large wildfires across Siberia and western North America in 2021, finding that they produced widespread increases in health hazards, with concentrations in eastern Siberia reaching "levels not observed before".
Tiny particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) are considered particularly harmful since they can penetrate deep into the lungs or cardiovascular system.
"In addition to human health impacts, this will also affect ecosystems as air pollutants settle from the atmosphere to Earth's surface."
- 'Foretaste of the future' -
At the global scale, there has been a reduction over the past two decades in the total burned area, as a result of decreasing numbers of fires in savannas and grasslands.
But WMO said that some regions like western North America, the Amazon and Australia were seeing far more fires.
Taalas pointed out that severe heatwaves in Europe and China this year, coupled with stable high atmospheric conditions, sunlight and low wind speeds, had been "conducive to high pollution levels," warning that "this is a foretaste of the future."
This phenomenon is known as the "climate penalty", which refers to how climate change amplifies ground-level ozone production, which negatively impacts air quality.
In the stratosphere, ozone provides important protection from cancer-causing ultraviolet rays, but closer to the ground it is very hazardous for human health.
If emission levels remain high, this climate penalty is expected to account for "a fifth of all surface ozone concentration increase," WMO scientific officer Lorenzo Labrador told reporters.
He warned that most of that increase will happen over Asia, "and there you have about one quarter of the entire world population."
"Changes in one inevitably cause changes in the other," it said.