Short-lived climate pollutants and health

Cutting short-lived climate pollutants will quickly reduce air pollution and climate change, delivering immediate benefits for public health. Here's why.

Air pollution and climate change impact our lives and health in many ways. 

Air pollution, now considered the greatest environmental threat to our health, kills seven million people each year and is linked to an increasing number of health impacts, including increased susceptibility to COVID-19. A warming planet also increases public health challenges by affecting many basic needs, like clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food, and secure shelter.

Methane, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), black carbon and tropospheric ozone – all short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) – are not just powerful climate forcers, many are also dangerous air pollutants which cause millions of premature deaths annually and threaten to derail achievement of health and climate-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Because of their multiple impacts, there are many reasons to reduce short-lived climate pollutants. Here is why reducing them is key to protecting human health:

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1. Prevents the worst impacts of climate change

A warmer climate increases challenges to public health caused by natural disasters, heat aggravated illnesses, increases in vector borne diseases, and access to safe water and food.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will cause hundreds of thousands of additional deaths each year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress alone.

Reducing the rate of warming by cutting short-lived climate pollutants will quickly lower the risk to public health.

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2. Reduces air pollution deaths

Short-lived climate pollutants like tropospheric ozone (O3) and black carbon (a component of fine particulate matter or PM2.5) are dangerous air pollutants responsible for premature deaths from heart and lung disease, strokes, heart attacks, chronic and respiratory diseases such as bronchitis, aggravated asthma and other cardio-respiratory symptoms.

There is growing evidence that exposure to air pollution also increases susceptibility to serious complications and death from COVID-19.

Reducing short-lived climate pollutants will prevent millions of premature deaths each year from air pollution. The biggest benefits will be felt locally, with the greatest health benefits expected in Asia.

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3. Protects vulnerable populations

Air pollution disproportionately harms women, children, the elderly and the poor. It is the biggest threat to the survival of new-borns during their first six days of life. It is linked to low birth weight, and can cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage developing brains, lungs and immune systems.

Air pollution kills one in ten children under the age of five, from pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.

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For women in low- and middle-income countries, indoor air pollution from polluting fuels used in cooking is the single leading environmental health risk and a main cause of noncommunicable diseases. More than 60% of all premature deaths from household air pollution in 2012 were among women and children.

More than 90% of the 7 million premature deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa. In South Asia, indoor air pollution is the leading cause of premature death.

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4. We can cut emissions now

Solutions to cut short-lived climate pollutants can be implemented today. All are based on existing technology and can be carried out at no or little cost.

Concerted global efforts to implement these solutions can provide climate and health benefits in a short amount of time. They can cut methane emissions by at least 40% and black carbon by up to 70% by 2030, and virtually eliminate (99.5%) high-global warming potential hydrofluorocarbons by 2050 (all compared to 2010 levels).

Solutions include actions like replacing and properly disposing HFCs in refrigeration and air conditioning; reducing methane from waste (including food waste) and agriculture; reducing black carbon emissions from household cooking, lighting and heating, heavy-duty engines in trucks, buses and ships; and reducing methane leaks from oil and gas production.

How we’re driving action

The Coalition is the only global organisation dedicated to cutting short-lived climate pollutants to stabilize the climate, limit warming to 1.5°C, and drastically cut air pollution. Our partners are the driving force of this work.

We drive action by testing, implementing and sharing solutions, raising awareness, and engaging with leaders at the highest levels. Our Trust Fund provides resources for technical assistance and capacity building in developing countries, and targeted catalytic actions that transform sectors and reduce their SLCP emissions.