Climate Change

Oops! Air Quality Takes a Hit in Heatwave as UN Chief Issues Climate Crisis Warning!

Amplified by wildfires and desert dust fanned by climate change, more frequent heatwaves are leading to a sharp drop in air quality and human health, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in a new report on Wednesday.

The news came as the UN chief released a strongly worded statement on a record summer of global warming in the northern hemisphere, according to the European Union’s climate service Copernicus and WMO.

Earth has just experienced its hottest August on record – by a large margin – and the second hottest month ever after this July. Factoring in June, they represent the hottest three month period ever, the data indicates. 

The year overall is the second warmest on record behind 2016. 

Dog days bite back

“Our planet has just endured a season of simmering – the hottest summer on record,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, warning “climate breakdown has begun”.

“The dog days of summer are not just barking, they are biting”, continued the UN chief, describing the consequences of humanity’s unleashed fossil fuel addiction. 

As the climate crisis provokes more and more extreme weather worldwide, the UN Secretary General called on leaders to “turn up the heat now for climate solutions.” 

Heatwaves factor

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The 2023 WMO Air Quality and Climate Bulletin – coming on the heels of the Secretary General’s statement – puts the spotlight firmly on the damage caused by heatwaves.

It notes that high temperatures are not only a hazard by themselves, but they also trigger damaging pollution.

Based on the 2022 data, the report shows how heatwaves fanned a dangerous drop in air quality last year. 

“Heatwaves worsen air quality, with knock-on effects on human health, ecosystems, agriculture and indeed our daily lives,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas, commenting on the report’s findings, adding that climate change and air quality must be tackled together to break a vicious circle.

Climate change brew

Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of heatwaves.

“Smoke from wildfires contains a witch’s brew of chemicals that affects not only air quality and health, but also damages plants, ecosystems and crops – and leads to more carbon emissions and so more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” explained Lorenzo Labrador, a WMO scientific officer in the Global Atmosphere Watch network which compiled the Bulletin.

Last summer’s northern heatwave led to increased concentrations of pollutants such as harmful particulates and reactive gases such as nitrogen oxides.

In Europe, hundreds of air quality monitoring sites registered levels exceeding the World Health Organization’s (WHO) ozone air quality guideline levels of 100 μg m–3 over an eight-hour exposure. 

Urban heat islands need trees

When it comes to heat, city dwellers usually experience the most intense conditions.

With dense infrastructure and numerous tall buildings, urban areas end up with temperatures that are much higher compared to the rural surroundings.

This effect is usually referred to as creating an “urban heat island”. The magnitude of temperature difference varies but may reach up to 9°C at night.

As a result, people who live and work in cities, experience dangerous heat stress even at night.

There is a solution, though. A study in São Paulo, Brazil showed that both temperature and CO2 measurements are partly mitigated by incorporating more green spaces within cities, pointing to the benefits of nature-based solutions for climate change.

WMO released its report on the eve of the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies marked on 7 September. The theme this year is Together for Clean Air, focusing on the need for strong partnerships, increased investment and shared responsibility to overcome air pollution.

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12 Comments

  1. As climate change intensifies, we are witnessing the devastating effects of heatwaves on air quality and human health. It’s alarming how wildfires and desert dust, fueled by climate change, are contributing to this decline. The time for urgent action is now before it’s too late.

  2. Earth has just experienced its hottest August on record – by a large margin – and the second hottest month ever after this July. Factoring in June, it represents the hottest three-month period ever, the data indicates. Our planet has just endured a season of simmering – the hottest summer on record. The dog days of summer are not just barking, they are biting. Climate breakdown has begun and humanity’s unleashed fossil fuel addiction is causing severe consequences. The UN Secretary-General is urging leaders to turn up the heat now for climate solutions.

  3. Our planet has just endured a season of simmering – the hottest summer on record. Climate breakdown has begun. The dog days of summer are not just barking, they are biting. Humanity’s unleashed fossil fuel addiction is causing severe consequences. It’s time for leaders to turn up the heat now for climate solutions.

  4. Will the increased heatwaves negatively impact air quality and human health even more in the coming years?

    1. Yes, SarahSmith123, the worsening heatwaves are indeed projected to have a further detrimental effect on air quality and human health in the future. It’s crucial for immediate global action to combat climate change and mitigate these impacts before they escalate even more.

  5. Does the new report provide any specific recommendations on how to improve air quality during heatwaves?

    1. Yes, the new report highlights the urgency of implementing sustainable practices to combat the declining air quality during heatwaves. It emphasizes the importance of reducing carbon emissions, promoting green energy sources, and enhancing air pollution control measures. Taking swift action is crucial to safeguarding human health and preserving the environment in the face of escalating climate challenges.

  6. As an environmental advocate, it’s disheartening to see the air quality worsening due to the heatwave exacerbated by climate change. We must take urgent action to curb the impact of these extreme weather events on our planet.

  7. Could the increased heatwaves and declining air quality be directly linked to the rising global temperatures as mentioned in the article?

    1. Yes, Rebecca81, the increased heatwaves and declining air quality are indeed directly linked to the rising global temperatures. As climate change intensifies, the frequency and intensity of heatwaves are expected to rise, leading to detrimental effects on air quality and human health. It’s crucial for us to address this urgent climate crisis to mitigate the impacts on our planet and future generations.

  8. The news came as the UN chief released a strongly worded statement on a record summer of global warming in the northern hemisphere, according to the European Union’s climate service Copernicus and WMO. Earth has just experienced its hottest August on record – by a large margin – and the second hottest month ever after this July. Factoring in June, they represent the hottest three month period ever, the data indicates. The year overall is the second warmest on record behind 2016.

  9. Our planet has just endured a season of simmering – the hottest summer on record. Climate breakdown has begun and the consequences of humanity’s unleashed fossil fuel addiction are biting. Leaders need to turn up the heat now for climate solutions.

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