Latest information on air quality and climate change

chimney smoke

The latest World Health Organization database information on air quality is now available, along with a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Global air quality

The latest World Health Organization (WHO) database shows that air quality, in most cities worldwide that monitor outdoor (ambient) air pollution, fails to meet the WHO guidelines for safe levels. This puts people at additional risk of respiratory disease and other health problems.

In most cities where there is enough data to compare the situation today with previous years, air pollution is getting worse. Many factors contribute to this increase, including reliance on fossil fuels such as coal-fired power plants, dependence on private transport motor vehicles, inefficient use of energy in buildings, and the use of biomass for cooking and heating.

But some cities are making notable improvements – demonstrating that air quality can be improved by implementing policy measures such as banning the use of coal for ‘space heating’ in buildings, using renewable or ‘clean’ fuels for electricity production, and improving efficiency of motor vehicle engines.

Air quality data from several New Zealand cities and towns were included in the updated 2014 database. Lower Hutt and Wainuiomata had the best air quality in the country while Timaru, Christchurch, and Rotorua were the worst, with PM10 levels at or above the WHO’s Air Quality Guidelines for health safety.

Climate change

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the mitigation of climate change emphasises the need for a truly global agreement in 2015 to ensure efforts to cut greenhouse gases (GHG) are effective. It says deep cuts in GHG emissions remain possible but there are significant challenges.

Minister for Climate Change Issues Tim Groser says New Zealand is making inroads that will gradually restrict our own emissions. ‘We are a country with a growing population, yet the emissions intensity of our economy has decreased by more than one quarter since 1990. At the same time agriculture GDP increased 48%, while emissions only went up by 12%. That means farmers have been producing more meat and milk for export, with fewer greenhouse gas emissions per kilo.

‘New Zealand is also significantly ahead of most countries in limiting energy sector emissions, as our electricity supply is mostly renewable and we are heading towards a 90% renewable system by 2025.

‘New Zealand has made an unconditional commitment to take responsibility for our own emissions, with a target of 5% below 1990 levels by 2020. This target is comparable with the targets of many other developed countries.’

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Published in environment.