Fighting against global warming and fighting for air quality are intertwined. Here’s how.


In a new report, the French National Institute of Industrial Environment and Risks highlights how it may be possible to kill two birds with one stone to curb climate change and improve air quality.


A recent report (September 23 2014) by Ineris (the French National Institute of Industrial Environment and Risks) highlights the connection between air quality and global warning. To be more precise, it warns that “without a policy on climate, measures and legislation against pollution will be ineffective. They will all be negated by the excessive effects of global warming,”(Laurence Rouil, head of Ineris’s environment department , quoted on The report, “Qualité de l’air : Comment évaluer les politiques de gestion de qualité de l’air, à court et long terme ? L’intégration du facteur climatique” (“Air quality: How to evaluate air quality management policies, in the short and long term? Integrating the climate factor”) explains how global warming and air quality are in fact related, and insists that it is possible, and in fact indispensable, to tackle both issues together.

An issue to keep on the global political agenda

The rise in greenhouse gases emissions is worrying. According to the 2013 Global Carbon Project report, they increased by 2.3% during that year. The climate will have gained 2°C by the end of the century, and unless drastic measures are taken now the situation may worsen, reminds us.

In December 2013, the European Commission proposed a new Clean Air Policy Package, which included objectives to improve air quality by 2030, notably emission reductions for ozone and PM2.5and PM10 particles, and tookinto account the interactions between global warming and air pollution.

Ineris has devised projections for 2050 based on these objectives and others suggested by institutions such as IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The projections have improved understanding of the connection between climate change and air quality. The report explains: “For a long time, management strategies for air quality and climate have been developed in a differentiated manner, for many reasons. (…) Greenhouse gases reside in the atmosphere for long periods of time, while atmospheric pollutants do not (…). The problem posed by greenhouse gas demands a planetary level solution, while air quality can be managed on a local or regional scale. Until recently, air quality management policies had short-and medium-term objectives, while climate change is considered only in the very long term. (…) Most greenhouse gases (other than ozone) have little impact on human health. Conversely, health is the primary goal of measures to reduce pollutants.” But the connection between the two is now clearer.

Simulations have shown that policies to reduce global warming bring benefits for air quality management. Energy efficiency measures in fact reduce emissions of pollutants and limit chemical reactions in the atmosphere.

Climate warming modifies the physical characteristics of the atmosphere and influences the formation of pollution in the air. On the other hand, measures to reduce pollutant emissions also have an effect on greenhouse gas emissions – especially ozone, which is both a pollutant and a greenhouse gas, and to a lesser extent particles. Some pollutants do in fact affect the climate, because they disturb the energy balance in the atmosphere.

Of course, the aim is now to use these findings to trigger powerful, drastic measures, at global level, to tackle both global warming and air pollution. The potential to kill two birds with one stone has to be worth investigating. With the European Union having just announced new objectives (a 40% emission cut by 2030, compared with 1990 levels) the issue is higher on the global political agenda than ever.

Photo © M.Igor via shutterstock