Health effects of climate change (HECC) in the UK: 2023 report. Chapter 4. Impacts of climate change and policy on air pollution and human health

Macintyre, Helen L.; Mitsakou, Christina; Thompson, Sam; Aldridge, Stuart; Exley, Karen S.; Guercio, Valentina; Heal, Mathew R.; Vieno, Massimo ORCID:; Heaviside, Clare. 2023 Health effects of climate change (HECC) in the UK: 2023 report. Chapter 4. Impacts of climate change and policy on air pollution and human health. UK Health Security Agency (UKSA), 49pp.

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•Air pollution is one of the greatest environmental risks to public health in the UK and is associated with an estimated 29,000 to 43,000 deaths a year. Chapter 4 considers the relationship between climate change and outdoor air pollution and includes new analyses of the health burden from long-term and short-term exposure to air pollution. The chapter was led by expert scientists in the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), with contributions from experts in the University of Edinburgh, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and University College London. •Key outdoor air pollutants include particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and ozone (O3). Exposure to these is known to reduce life expectancy and is associated with a range of negative health effects, including respiratory and cardiovascular disease. People who live near busy roads are generally exposed to higher concentrations of air pollution. Some people are more susceptible to the health effects of air pollution including those with pre-existing cardiovascular and respiratory disease, young people, pregnant women, older people and low income communities. •Climate change will have an impact on air pollution. Changes in weather patterns, particularly temperature, rainfall and wind speed, are expected to have an effect on dispersal and concentrations of PM and O3. However, climate change mitigation measures that reduce emissions of greenhouse gases will help reduce air pollutants and lead to improvements in health outcomes. Evidence shows that emissions of air pollutants will be the dominant driver of air pollution concentrations over the coming decades. In this context, the analyses in the chapter focus on air pollutant emissions rather than climate change projections. •Future air quality in the UK will be determined by recent policy announcements and new legislation, such as the Environment Act 2021, the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023, and the Air Quality Strategy (England), the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill, Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 strategy and Clean Air strategy for Northern Ireland. In 2018, the UK government published the 25 Year Environment Plan, which set out the framework and vision for reducing emissions of key air pollutants by setting or meeting legally binding targets. •Analysis of the impacts of air quality controls over the next 2 decades indicate that by 2050, exposure to PM2.5 will decrease by between 28% and 36%, and NO2 exposure will decrease by between 35% and 49%, depending on the region. By 2050, annual mortality attributable to the effects of long-term exposure to PM2.5 and NO2 is projected to decrease roughly by between 25% and 37% compared with a 2018 baseline, depending on future demographic change in the UK. Reducing emissions, therefore, results in benefits to population health. However, due to the complex chemistry in the air, as NO2 levels decrease, there can be local increases in O3 in urban centres, which may increase some harms to health. The analyses in the chapter show that annual estimated emergency respiratory hospital admissions associated with short-term Chapter 4. Impacts of climate change and policy on air pollution and human health 3 effects from O3 exposure are projected to increase by between 4% and 12% by 2050 from a 2018 baseline of 60,488, depending on demographic change. •Overall, these projections reflect significant improvements in outdoor air quality and associated reductions in the burden of long-term health impacts arising from recent and upcoming air quality controls, and the greater the efforts to mitigate emissions of air pollutants, the greater the improvement in air quality. •The results presented in the chapter have several implications for public health. Although air pollutant emission controls will reduce concentrations of some air pollutants (such as PM2.5 and NO2), there may be local increases in O3, which may be exacerbated during heatwaves. Therefore, provision of localised alerting and monitoring will become particularly important. Ensuring that public health professionals and other stakeholders have accessible and high quality information to provide health advice and raise awareness will continue to be important. •This chapter highlights several priority research gaps, including the need to: • develop modelling techniques that consider climate-driven changes in both pollutant emissions and meteorology at spatial resolutions sufficient to quantify exposures to improve health impact assessment projections • develop an evidence base estimating the economic benefits associated with improvements in health from air pollution reduction as a result of strategies to tackle climate change • undertake further work to consider the potential combined effects of air pollution and other environment stressors that may be affected by climate change, such as heat and aeroallergens • advance our understanding of how climate change-driven behavioural change could modify personal exposure to air pollution, such as increased time spent outdoors in warmer temperatures •The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and UKHSA are undertaking a comprehensive review of how to communicate air quality information. The aim is to ensure members of the public, and vulnerable groups in particular, have what they need to protect themselves. UKHSA has also been developing an Air Pollution Exposure Surveillance (APES) vulnerability indicator which aims to indicate areas where population vulnerability to air pollution is elevated.

Item Type: Publication - Report (Technical Report)
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Atmospheric Chemistry and Effects (Science Area 2017-)
Funders/Sponsors: Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access report - full text available via Official URL link.
NORA Subject Terms: Atmospheric Sciences
Date made live: 05 Feb 2024 14:57 +0 (UTC)

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