According to the Fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, mitigating climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions has several side effects, one of which is improving air quality.
For decades, under the Clean Air Act in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working hard to reduce emissions. For a long time, those emissions-reduction measures were related to sulfur oxides, nitrous oxides, and soot (PM2.5) emissions, among others. The effect on public health, due to the reduction of smog and ozone, has been substantial, but there is still plenty of work to do. California, for example, is still rated as one of the worst-polluted states in the nation. Thousands of people across the country suffer, some dying, due to PM2.5-related asthma and respiratory problems.
Many of these emissions-reduction measures have indirectly been responsible for lessening of greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide. In the transportation and energy sectors, responsible for 66% of United States greenhouse gas emissions, more efficient systems burn less fossil fuels, emitting less carbon dioxide, which is believed to be directly responsible for climate change. Interestingly, the IPCC’s 5th Report concludes that mitigating climate change will have even better consequences on air quality.
China is a major case in point, whose mainly coal-fired power grid and poorly-regulated transportation system is responsible for the world’s biggest carbon footprint. Additionally, China also has what may be the world’s worst air quality, unprecedented levels of PM2.5, which is killing the very people that rely on those power and transportation systems. The effects of mitigating climate change, in China alone, would require eliminating coal-fired power plants and strengthening the transportation sector’s emissions regulations. The effects would be almost immediately noticeable, to the respiratory relief of hundreds of millions of Chinese living in her greatest cities.
Image © IPCC via ShrinkThatFootprint