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Climate, health and opportunity

The Guardian, 14 Dec 2015- Actions to help climate change do not always help air pollution.
Climate, health and opportunity

Time to choose: polluting traffic passes a non-polluting windfarm in California. Photograph: David McNew/Getty Images

One conflict area is wood heating. This is becoming increasingly popular across Europe as a low carbon fuel but it produces a lot of air pollution. This is especially true of open fires where most of the heat is wasted too. Modern stoves and wood chip burners perform better but it is difficult for any wood burner to match the low pollution from gas heating.

Diesels cars are sold, and taxed, on the basis of lower carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions when compared with petrol cars. But diesel car owners are not getting the fuel economy shown in tests. This means more CO2 than expected, and diesels also produce sooty sunlight-absorbing exhaust. We are paying a huge public health cost for the diesel cars in Europe and it is unclear if they are helping climate change at all.

Improved energy efficiency helps climate, air pollution and fuel poverty. Swapping car trips for public transport, walking or cycling works well and also produces massive health benefits from increased every-day exercise. Coal, heavy and unconventional oils are worst-case fuels for both air pollution and climate, due to carbon intensity and black carbon soot particles. Renewable energy and smart grids are therefore win-wins.

Methane from agriculture, landfills, coal mines, gas leaks and fracking is overlooked as a climate-warming gas and for the dangerous ground-level ozone that it creates.

Post Paris, we have a great opportunity to control climate change and reduce the global health burden from air pollution, but only if the right choices are made.


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