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Climate change and air quality

Learn more about climate change and air quality in this interesting article.
© RMIT Europe and EIT Urban Mobility

Climate change can impact air quality and, conversely, air quality can impact climate change. Pollution is having a tremendous impact on the climate. Many adverse effects of pollution are evident in the form of severe weather conditions, hotter temperatures and rising sea levels.

Global warming

Global warming is an environmental phenomenon caused by natural and anthropogenic air pollution. It refers to rising air and ocean temperatures around the world. This temperature rise is at least partially caused by an increase in the number of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap heat energy in the Earth’s atmosphere. (Usually, more of the planet’s heat escapes into space.)

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that has had the biggest effect on global warming. Carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels (coal, gasoline, and natural gas). Humans have come to rely on fossil fuels to power cars and planes, heat homes, and run factories. Doing these things pollutes the air with carbon dioxide.

Other greenhouse gases emitted by natural and artificial sources also include methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases. Methane is a major emission from coal plants and agricultural processes. Nitrous oxide is a common emission from industrial factories, agriculture, and the burning of fossil fuels in cars. Fluorinated gases, such as hydrofluorocarbons, are emitted by industry. Fluorinated gases are often used instead of gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs have been outlawed in many places because they deplete the ozone layer.

Air pollution Take a closer look

Worldwide, many countries have taken steps to reduce or limit greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming. The Kyoto Protocol, first adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, is an agreement between 183 countries that they will work to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. The United States has not signed that treaty. In addition to the international Kyoto Protocol, The Paris Agreement which is a legally binding international treaty on climate change was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016. Its goal was to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement is a landmark in the multilateral climate change process because, for the first time, a binding agreement brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.

Most developed nations have adopted laws to regulate emissions and reduce air pollution. In the United States, the debate is underway about a system called cap and trade to limit emissions. This system would cap, or place a limit, on the amount of pollution a company is allowed. Companies that exceeded their cap would have to pay. Companies that polluted less than their cap could trade or sell their remaining pollution allowance to other companies. Cap and trade would essentially pay companies to limit pollution.

In 2021 the World Health Organization issued new Air Quality Guidelines. The WHO guidelines are tougher than most individual countries’ existing guidelines and aim to reduce air pollution-related deaths by 15% a year.

In the next step, we watch a video interview with an industry expert.

© RMIT Europe and EIT Urban Mobility
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Clean Air for Urban Liveability

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