Climate change worsening heatwaves, air quality: UN

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The UN warned that climate change causes heatwaves to become more intense and frequent, which, in turn, creates a “witch’s brew” – a toxic mixture – that threatens the health of people and other living creatures.

Heat waves are a major cause of air pollution.

The World Meteorological Organization of the United Nations said that extreme heat can cause a host of chemical reactions that are harmful to human health.

In a recent statement, WMO chief Petteri TAALAS said, “Hea,twaves can worsen air pollution, which has knock-on effects for human health and ecosystems. Agriculture, as well as our everyday lives, is affected.”

Recent research by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) found that fine particulate pollution of the air from vehicle and industrial emissions, as well as sand and fires, are “the greatest external threats to public health.”

Taalas emphasized that “climate changes and air quality can’t be treated separately.” They go together and must be tackled in tandem to break this vicious circle.

Temperatures are rising

Taalas warned that while the report on Wednesday was based upon 2022 data, “what we’re witnessing in 2023 in terms of temperature is even more extreme”.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service of the European Union announced on Wednesday that the Earth just experienced its hottest three months on record. Last July was the hottest-ever recorded month, followed by August, and 2023 is on track to be the hottest-ever year.

This is not good news for air pollution levels.

WMO stated that “Air quality is interconnected with climate because chemical species are related, substances responsible for climate changes and air pollution are often emitted from the same sources and changes in either one will inevitably lead to changes in the second.”

The article pointed out that the burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide and nitrogen into the air, which not only act as heat-trapping greenhouse gasses but can also lead to the formation of pollutants such as nitrate and ozone aerosols.

WMO reported that researchers agree that climate change causes more intense and frequent heat waves. This, in turn, increases the risk of wildfires becoming more severe.

Heatwaves and wildfires are linked.

Lorenzo Labrador is a WMO researcher with the Global Atmosphere Watch Network, which produced Wednesday’s Bulletin.

He said that smoke from wildfires contained a witch’s-brew of chemicals that affect not only air quality but also plants, ecosystems, and crops. It also leads to increased carbon emissions, and therefore more greenhouse gases, in the atmosphere.

The report’s 2022 data showed that heatwaves caused wildfires to spread in the Northwestern United States last year, resulting in unhealthy air.

It said that the soaring temperatures in Europe were accompanied by an unusually large amount of desert dust arriving on the continent. This led to higher concentrations of particulate matter as well as ground-level pollution.

Ozone at the surface of the Earth is harmful to human health.

The ozone also reduces crop yield. In India and China, wheat and soybean losses can reach 15-30%.

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