Heat waves, forest fires … Air quality threatened by the “climate backlash”, warns the UN

Heat waves, forest fires … Air quality threatened by the “climate backlash”, warns the UN

Heat waves, forest fires … Air quality threatened by the “climate backlash”, warns the UN

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warns: heat waves and forest fires will become more frequent, more intense and longer under the effect of climate change, and thus degrade air quality and human health. In its new report, published on Wednesday 7 September, the specialized agency of the United Nations evokes a dynamic of mutual reinforcement between pollution and global warming that will lead to a “climatic aftershock” from which hundreds of millions of people will suffer.

WMO’s annual air quality and climate bulletin focuses specifically on the smoke impact of wildfires in 2021 when, as in 2020, heat and drought exacerbated the spread of bushfires in western North America and in Siberia, leading to a significant increase in the levels of fine particles (PM 2.5) which are harmful to health.

“Even if emissions are low, global warming is projected to cause an increase in forest fires and the air pollution they cause.”

Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the WMO

in a press release

The Finnish meteorologist points out that this phenomenon will have an impact on human health, but it will also affect ecosystems because air pollutants are deposited on the surface of the Earth.

The year 2022 was a “taste”

Global observations show that the total annual area burnt shows a downward trend over the past two decades, thanks to a decrease in the number of fires in the savannah and meadows. However, on a continental scale, some regions show increasing trends, including areas in western North America, the Amazon, and Australia.

The intense forest fires then resulted in abnormally high concentrations of PM 2.5 in Siberia, Canada and the western United States in July and August 2021. In eastern Siberia, these concentrations reached levels not previously observed. “never observed before”according to the WMO, mainly due to particularly high temperatures and dry soils.

As for what happened this year, it is “a taste of what the future holds, because a further increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves is to be feared”predicts Petteri Taalas.

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