When it comes to reducing emissions there is no more time for stalling, things must change - and fast. And a new EU-funded study from the European Geosciences Union (EGU) that reports most of the world's population will be subjected to degraded air quality in 2050 if we stick to the 'business-as-usual' model provides further evidence that time is dwindling.
Writing in the EGU's journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, scientists from Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Saudi Arabia predict that by 2050, a fast approaching milestone a mere 40 years down the line, the average world citizen will experience similar air pollution to that of today's average East Asian citizen.
Air pollution is a major health risk that is only set to get worse as industrial activity increases; and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), urban outdoor air pollution currently causes an estimated 1.3 million deaths every year worldwide.
The study was supported by several EU-funded projects: C8 ('Consistent computation of the chemistry-cloud continuum and climate change in Cyprus'), which was funded by a EUR 2,196,000 European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant; CIRCE ('Climate change and impact research: the Mediterranean environment'), which received a EUR 10,000,000 boost from the 'Sustainable Development, Global Change and Ecosystems' Thematic area of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6); EDESIA ('Extended distributed European infrastructure for supercomputing applications'), funded to the tune of EUR 7,000,000 under FP6's 'Research Infrastructures' Thematic area; and EDESIA's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) successor: DEISA2 ('Distributed European infrastructure for supercomputing applications 2'), supported by a EUR 10,237,000 grant under FP7's 'Research Infrastructures' Theme.
The researchers studied the impact of man-made emissions on air quality if past emission trends continue and no additional climate change and air pollution reduction measures are implemented. They estimated air quality in 2005, 2010, 2025 and 2050 using an atmospheric chemistry model that uses a basic mathematical formulation to predict the meteorology and the chemical composition of the atmosphere.
Study co-author Greet Janssens-Maenhout from the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Italy comments: 'At present the post-Kyoto climate negotiations are progressing slowly, and it is unclear how air quality policies will develop globally. In regions with economic growth, it might be less effective to implement emission-reduction measures due to strong growth in activities in particular sectors; in countries suffering from the economic downturn, implementing expensive air-quality measures could prove difficult in coming years.'
The results show that in 2025 and 2050, if no action is taken, East Asia will be exposed to high levels of pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. Northern India and the Arabian Gulf region, on the other hand, will suffer a marked increase in ozone levels.
The study also highlights that air pollution would significantly increase in Europe and North America, but to a much lesser extent than in Asia, due to the effect of mitigation policies that have been in place for over two decades.
The study is the first of its kind to include all five major air pollutants know to negatively impact human health: PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide. The scientists considered pollutants released through human activity, as well as those occurring naturally such as desert dust, sea spray and volcanic emissions.
The international study concludes that 'strong actions and further effective legislation' are necessary to 'avoid the drastic deterioration of air quality, which can have severe effects on human health'.
Lead author Andrea Pozzer, based at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany, says: 'We show that further legislation to control and reduce man-made emissions is needed, in particular for eastern China and northern India, to avoid hot-spots of elevated air pollution.'
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