Heatwaves around the globe are exacerbating air quality and pollution, according to findings from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). In their annual air quality and climate report, meteorologists underscore a troubling “vicious cycle” stemming from climate disruption and air pollution.
The WMO has elucidated that heatwaves have triggered wildfires in the northwestern United States and have been coupled with desert dust invasions across Europe, both of which culminated in hazardous air quality in 2022. Europe, in particular, experienced record-breaking high temperatures in 2022, leading to elevated levels of particulate matter suspended in the atmosphere. Furthermore, an unusual influx of desert dust over the Mediterranean and Europe occurred during the latter half of August 2022.
Professor Petteri Taalas, the Secretary-General of WMO, emphasized that “heatwaves worsen air quality, with knock-on effects on human health, ecosystems, agriculture, and indeed our daily lives.” He emphasized the inseparable link between climate change and air quality, urging concerted efforts to break this perilous cycle.
The bulletin, while based on data from the previous year, underscores that 2023 has witnessed even more extreme conditions. Prof. Taalas noted that “July was the hottest ever month on record, with intense heat in many parts of the northern hemisphere, and this continued through August.”
Combatting air pollution arising from wildfires and other heatwave-related hazards is within the grasp of individuals. The bulletin showcases case studies from Brazil, demonstrating that urban parks and tree-covered areas can enhance air quality and act as carbon dioxide sinks.
Dr. Lorenzo Labrador, a WMO scientific officer in the Global Atmosphere Watch network, stressed the interconnection between heatwaves and wildfires. Smoke from wildfires contains an array of chemicals that adversely impact air quality, health, as well as the well-being of plants, ecosystems, and crops. Additionally, it contributes to increased carbon emissions, further exacerbating greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.
In light of these findings, it is increasingly evident that addressing both the climate crisis and air quality concerns is imperative. The consequences of inaction are far-reaching, affecting not only our environment but also our health and overall quality of life.