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Air Quality & Climate Change

Air quality and Climate Change are strongly linked. Future likely changes to the climate will have impacts on weather systems and extreme weather episodes, as a result some climatic changes are likely to affect pollution levels. Extreme events like droughts may see concentrations in ground level ozone increase affecting human health as well as crops and vegetation.

Health Effects of Climate Change in the UK 2008  (HPA & DoH) Many human activities release pollutants into the atmosphere with some of these being greenhouse gases. The overwhelming body of evidence shows that the level of these gases in the atmosphere is increasing, and that they are starting to warm the planet. In the UK this warming effect is expected to give us warmer, wetter winters and hotter summers with an increased threat of droughts.

The 2008 report from the UK Health Protection Agency and Department for Health "Health Effects of Climate Change in the UK 2008 (HPA & DoH)" highlighted in section 7:
"The air pollution climate of the UK will continue to change. Though concentrations of a number of important pollutants are likely to decline over the next half-century the concentration of ozone is likely to increase. "..."the increase in estimated annual ozone concentrations between 2003 and 2020 will result in a 15% increase in attributable deaths and hospital admissions for respiratory diseases."

Working together on Climate change and Air Quality

Linkages between air quality and climate change Sussex-air works with local climate change bodies, the Health Protection Agency and Climate South-East (www.climatesoutheast.org.uk) to highlight the synergies and conflicts within both areas. Sources of pollutants can be similar for both pollutant and greenhouse gases, however the methods of reduction can have conflicting or negaticve effects upon the other. For example the by-products of CO2 emissions reduction systems can create increases in primary or secondary pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide or ozone. It is therefore essential that both climate change and air quality be considered together.

Greenhouse gas emissions inventory

The partnership has re-developed the emissions inventory to include greenhouse gases. Data will also be available for the assessment and monitoring of national indicators (NI) such as:

  • NI 185 : Percentage CO2 reduction from LA operations
  • NI 186: Per capita CO2 emissions in the LA area

Sussex-air has updated the Sussex air pollution emissions inventory (2004) to include various green house gases. The greenhouse gases within the inventory are:

  • carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • methane (CH4)
  • nitrous oxide (N2O)

Go to the Emissions inventory

Greenhouse gases

The major greenhouse gases of concern are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone.

Carbon dioxide

The main greenhouse gas of concern is carbon dioxide, or CO2, which is released when we burn fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. Carbon dioxide is probably the most important of the greenhouse gases as it accounts for the largest proportion of the 'trace gases' and is currently responsible for 60% of the 'enhanced greenhouse effect'.

Burning fossil fuels releases the carbon dioxide stored millions of years ago. We use fossil fuels to run vehicles (petrol, diesel and kerosene), heat homes, businesses and power factories. Deforestation releases the carbon stored in trees and also results in less carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere.

Methane

The importance of methane in the greenhouse effect is its warming effect. Even though it occurs in lower concentrations than carbon dioxide, it produces 21 times as much warming as CO2. Methane accounts for 20% of the 'enhanced greenhouse effect'.

Methane is generated naturally by bacteria that break down organic matter, it is found in the guts of termites and other animals and in natural gas deposits. An increase in livestock farming and rice growing has led to an increase in atmospheric methane. Other sources are the extraction of fossil fuels, landfill sites and the burning of biomass.

Nitrous oxide

Nitrous oxide makes up an extremely small amount of the atmosphere - it is less than one-thousandth as abundant as carbon dioxide. However, it is 200 to 300 times more effective in trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

Burning fossil fuels and wood is one source of the increase in atmospheric nitrous oxide, however the main contributor is believed to be the widespread use of nitrogen-base fertilisers. Sewage treatment plants may also be a major source of this gas.

Ozone

Ozone is an everyday part of the atmosphere and is constantly being created and destroyed. Upper atmospheric ozone does function as a greenhouse gas, but its strength compared to carbon dioxide is yet to be calculated. Some ozone is man-made by various kinds of air pollution, when it reacts in sunlight. Increases in pre-cursor pollutants such as oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC's) could create future increases in ground level and upper atmospheric ozone.

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