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Germany: Conference on soot and other climate-related pollutants

Julia Huscher, HEAL’s Senior Coal and Health Officer, was a speaker at the final conference of the Soot Free for the Climate project in Berlin presenting on the health effects of so-called short lived climate pollutants. Reducing these air pollutants would bring benefits for both public health and the climate.

The Soot Free project led by Environmental Action Germany (Deutsche Umwelthilfe) involved city authorities and the general public over a two year period, focusing on soot and other pollutants, and measures on how to reduce them.

The importance for public health of soot and methane, as so called short-lived climate pollutants comes from the fact that both contribute to the formation of particulate matter (PM), which causes a significant burden of disease from air pollution. Soot has been linked to cardiovascular mortality and cardiopulmonary hospital admissions. Ozone is another short-lived climate pollutant which also has significant health effects.

As short-lived climate pollutants, the three substances all have a warming effect on the climate and are thus highly relevant for climate mitigation. Soot contributes the second largest share to global temperature rise after CO2. Their lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than for CO2, so a reduction of soot, methane and ozone emissions would quickly result in a slowing of the rise in global temperatures.

Climate scientists have been pointing out that in order to stay within an emissions corridor that limits global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, both CO2 emissions have to peak as soon as possible and emissions of short-lived climate pollutants have to be reduced drastically, while focusing only on one strategy would not be sufficient.

The good news is that by reducing short-lived climate pollutants substantial health benefits can already be achieved in the short term. Currently more than 90 percent of European city dwellers are exposed to concentrations of ozone above what the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends as healthy. Unfortunately the concentrations or quantitative emissions of soot in Europe are not well known. Soot is not listed as a greenhouse gas under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change like methane and ozone. On the other hand, strategies to reduce particulate matter pollution, especially from traffic and biomass burning, will reduce soot emissions and thus help mitigate climate change.

According to the Soot Free project, many solutions exist, but they are not yet implemented everywhere. Part of the project was a city ranking exercise which listed 23 large European cities according to nine categories of measures they could be carrying out to reduce air pollution with PM10 and NO2, which would result in reductions of soot and ozone. The best performing cities in 2012 and 2015 were Berlin and Zurich. Copenhagen, Vienna, and Stockholm were also reaching high rating, but none of the five cities reached the best possible grade. HEAL supported the launch of these city ranking results in Brussels in 2015.

Link to the city ranking:

Originally posted on 23 February 2016

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