The link between Climate Change and Air Pollution

by Achim Haug

With record breaking temperatures and depressing news about accelerated growth in air and oceanic temperatures, our planet is not in a good shape.

In the news, this is predominantly linked with rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Reducing CO2 as well as getting it out of the atmosphere is a daunting task. However, what is less known is that about 30-45% of the rising temperatures is not due to CO2 but so called Short Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCP).

These are a group of pollutants that have a relatively short atmospheric lifespan but exert a powerful influence on global warming and air pollution. The main SLCPs include: Methane (CH4), Black Carbon, Ozone and Hydrofluorocarbons.

Despite their shorter atmospheric lifetimes compared to CO2, they can have substantial warming effects due to their higher potency and ability to influence radiative forcing.

Out of these SLCPs, Black Carbon is one of the main contributors to global warming with some estimates to have a 30% contribution. Also known as soot, Black Carbon consists of fine particles emitted during incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biomass, and biofuels. It is a major component of particulate matter (PM) pollution and has significant warming properties. Black carbon contributes to climate change by absorbing sunlight and reducing the reflectivity of snow and ice surfaces, leading to accelerated melting.

Compared to CO2 which is a natural gas in the atmosphere and from a health perspective relatively harmless in low concentrations (but extremely harmful for our planet), Black Carbon has a wide range of immediate negative health impacts. The Global Burden of Disease study (GBD) estimates that in 2019: 4.5 million people died prematurely from outdoor air pollution (from PM2.5 and ground-level ozone).

So by reducing PM2.5 / Black Carbon globally we do not only improve the health of millions of people but also have a significant positive effect to slow climate change.

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