Air and Climate Change Fast Facts

The Problem:

Although they may seem to be two very different issues, climate change and air pollution are closely interlinked. By reducing air pollution, we also protect the climate. Air pollutants include more than just greenhouse gases—which are principally carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and others. They include particulate matter, ozone and CHC. But there is a big overlap: the two often interact with one another. (UNEP)

Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Statistics:

  • Since the advent of coal-powered steam engines, human activities have vastly increased the volume of GHGs emitted into the atmosphere. Between 1750 and 2011, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2, the most abundant GHG released by human activities) increased by 40%, methane by 150%, and nitrous oxide by 20%. (NRDC)
  • Electricity, heat and transport account for 73.2% of total GHG emissions. This includes food production, paper production, iron and steel production, car manufacturing, flying, shipping, and electricity used in commercial and residential buildings. (Our World in Data)10.9% of emissions are energy related from the generation of electricity for lighting, appliances, cooking and heating at home. (Our World in Data)
  • The food system as a whole – including refrigeration, food processing, packaging, and transport – accounts for 25% of total global GHG emissions. (Our World in Data)
  • Our gadgets, the internet and the systems supporting them account for about 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions, similar to the amount produced by the global airline industry. (The Shift Project)
  • 11% of total global emissions come from the burning of petrol and diesel from all forms of road transport which includes cars, trucks, motorcycles and buses. 60% of road transport emissions come from passenger travel and the remaining 40% from road freight. (Our World in Data)
Greenhouse gas emissions by sector according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Photo by Climate Central

Air Quality Effects on Health Statistics:

  • New York Times Article: How Climate Change May Affect Your Health – No matter where you live or how high your socioeconomic status, climate change can endanger your health, both physical and mental, now and in the future.
  • Approximately 7 million premature deaths worldwide happen annually due to the effects of air pollution, about 4 million of which are due to outdoor air pollution. (IASS)
    • In the U.S. over 40% of the population are at risk of disease and premature death because of air pollution. (National Geographic)
  • Air pollution can cause respiratory illness, leading to days of missed work and school. Children are especially vulnerable to the impacts of air pollution: exposure to air pollution in early childhood, when the lungs are still developing, can lead to reduced lung capacity that persists through adulthood. (IASS)
    • Approximately 150 million Americans live in the 257 counties with unhealthful levels of either ozone or short-term or year-round particles. 2.5 million children and 10.6 million adults with asthma live in counties that received an F for at least one pollutant. (American Lung Association)
  • Hispanics, Asians, American Indians and especially African Americans experienced higher risks of harm, including premature death, from exposure to air pollution. Approximately 74 million People of Color (57%), live in counties that received one or more failing grades for ozone and/or particle pollution, compared to 38% of White people. (American Lung Association)
  • In December 2020, Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah was the first person in the UK whose death was ruled a cause of air pollution. The coroner said levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) near Ella’s home exceeded World Health Organization and European Union guidelines. “There was a recognized failure to reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide, which possibly contributed to her death” (BBC)

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