Air pollution deaths expected to rise because of climate change

Source: By CBS News • Posted: Thursday, August 3, 2017

New research predicts that air pollution worsened by climate change will cost tens of thousands of lives if changes are not made.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, estimates that if current trends continue, climate change will be responsible for another 60,000 air pollution-related deaths globally in the year 2030. By 2100, that number could jump to 260,000.

Previous research has found that some 5.5 million people worldwide already die prematurely due to air pollution.

The authors say this is the most comprehensive study to date on how climate change will affect health as a result of exacerbating air pollution. The research incorporates results from several of the world’s top climate change modeling groups in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Japan and New Zealand.

Hotter temperatures “can speed up the reaction rate of air pollutants that form in the atmosphere,” lead study author Jason West, an associate professor of environmental sciences and engineering in the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, told CBS News. “Places that by and large get drier from climate change would be expected to increase air pollution concentrations.”

The study estimates that climate change is expected to increase air pollution-related deaths globally and in all regions except for Africa.

“Air pollution affects things like heart attacks, stroke, cardiopulmonary disease, and lung cancer,” he said. “So because air pollution affects those causes it has a big effect on health.”

The researchers emphasize that a concerted effort to slow down climate change could make a big difference for our future. The U.S. commitment to such efforts was thrown into question when President Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord in June. That agreement, signed by more than 190 other countries, aims to reduce carbon emissions, which scientists say have been fueling global warming.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions has a really big benefit for air pollution and therefore for human health,” West said.

In addition to increasing air pollution deaths, climate change is also expected to have a growing impact on health through rising rates of heat stress, the wider spread of infectious diseases, and reduced access to clean water and food.