- COP26 in Glasgow (UK) will be held (unless cancelled at the last minute due to the pandemic) between 1 and 12 November 2021.
- The impact of forest fires on climate change and human health will be one of the themes of the conference.
- Air quality monitoring using technologies such as those offered by Kunak should be considered as part of the solution.
The COP26 Conference of the Parties “must be the golden opportunity to make this work,” said Alok Sharma emphatically, President of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, in view of the urgency to hold the event in Glasgow (UK) in November.
The priority is to keep the goal of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5ºC, as agreed in Paris in 2015.
How did we get here?
The answer is simple: polluting.
It all started with the Industrial Revolution at the end of the 18th century, which set the beginning of growth based on massive consumption of fossil fuels. However, the amount of carbon released by burning fuels, in addition to changes in soil use and the destruction of natural sinks, has ended up breaking the atmospheric balance.
As a result, the climate is changing at such a scale and speed that cannot be explained by natural cycles only and that bear the indelible footprint of human activity. The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report published in August 2021 reveals that, in fact, human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years.
Air pollution and climate change, two sides of the same coin
In conclusion from previous paragraphs, we can say that the energy model moving the world poses a problem.
The ratio is evident: the more fossil fuels are burnt, the more CO2 emissions and suspended particles change the climate. Yet, many of them have an effect on air quality. A paradigmatic case is that of particulate matter, whose behaviour, as we will explain, is quite surprising since it has positive effects on the climate but a negative impact on human health.
Thus, air pollution and climate change have a common origin. Although they differ in many other aspects (e.g. the impact extent), short-term measures such as raising environmental awareness or controlling emissions can help to tackle both problems.
The paradox of particulate matter
To illustrate the extent to which pollution and climate change are interrelated, let’s use an example: a wildfire.
The fires that have ravaged large areas of Siberia, the United States and Greece release CO2 into the atmosphere. CO2 is an important greenhouse gas that raises global temperature. In turn, this heat leads to increased evapotranspiration and droughts, which are ideal conditions for fire. So, in this case, a clear vicious circle is created.
Then, what about suspended particles? When we talked about our participation in the Wildland Fire Sensor Challenge, in which we demonstrated the usefulness of our particulate sensors, we explained that particulate matter is one of the main fire emissions. In fact, smoke is visible because of the particles suspended in the atmosphere. Well, yes, these microscopic elements also play a key role in climate change.
What is the effect of these particles on the climate? Smoke, in general, reduces the amount of radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. However, there are some differences. Depending on the combustion biomass type, optical properties may vary (1). Thus (2),
- hot, dry grasslands, such as those found in Africa or Australia, generate dark smoke with higher carbon black concentrations, which tends to absorb more heat, while
- cool, moist and boreal forests, such as those that cover large areas of the United States or Asia, release lighter or brighter smoke that absorbs less heat.
Obviously, the solution to global warming does not lie in encouraging stubble burning regardless of the benefits according to models used in the studies. After all, exposure to smoke can cause multiple health problems, especially for the most vulnerable people. In the end, the more than 8 million people who die each year as a result of air pollution are a sad reminder.
How do we get out of this?
Considering what has been explained so far, air quality monitoring should be part of the solution. In this sense, Kunak technology monitors pollution and environmental variables in real-time, providing accurate data to make the most appropriate decisions in a timely manner.
It is an idea and a commitment that we already tried to convey at the Conference of the Parties, COP25, in Madrid in 2019, when we explained that open innovation should help to:
- make air quality information easier to understand in order to promote changes in personal habits;
- involve urban and industrial areas in measuring, controlling and reducing pollution levels;
- provide low and middle-income countries with access to monitoring technologies and
- promote the innovation of reliable high-quality measurement systems.
The next Conference of the Parties in November will turn the spotlight on Glasgow, where delegations must address thorny issues such as financing, demonstrate a firm commitment to tackling climate change and come up with effective global solutions.
We are convinced that there will also be room for the concepts we deal with on a daily basis: air quality, innovation and disruptive technology. In the end, all actions contribute to the ultimate goal of reducing the most serious impacts of climate change. Kunak will also be there.
- (1) Brown, H., Liu, X., Pokhrel, R., Murphy, S., Lu, Z., & Saleh, R. et al. (2021). Biomass burning aerosols in most climate models are too absorbing. Nature Communications, 12(1) https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-20482-9
- (2) Yu, P., Davis, S., Toon, O., Portmann, R., Bardeen, C., & Barnes, J. et al. (2021). Persistent Stratospheric Warming Due to 2019–2020 Australian Wildfire Smoke. Geophysical Research Letters, 48(7). https://doi.org/10.1029/2021gl092609