B.C. Air Quality

How We Contribute to Air Pollution and Climate Change

The pollutants released into the atmosphere cause local air pollution (see Table of Common Pollutants). However, they also cause regional air pollution, as with huge plumes of smoke covering a large area, and acid rain. Beyond that, we are emitting such a high level of pollutants that they are causing serious global environmental problems: climate change and ozone depletion. The human race has become capable of affecting the atmosphere that encircles the Earth, and the very planet itself.

Processes such as fossil fuel burning in industry, motor vehicles and buildings emit pollutants that cause local and regional pollution. These pollutants include particulate matter (PM) and ground-level ozone (O3) — the key ingredients of smog — along with nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides (SOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon monoxide (CO).

The same processes also release greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), which are linked to global climate change.

In some cases, air pollutants contribute to climate change, and greenhouse gases contribute to air pollution:

  • Air pollutants such as ground-level ozone and soot (a portion of particulate matter) contribute directly to global warming, which is linked to climate change.
  • Methane, one of the most important greenhouse gases, is a major cause of increased ground-level ozone.

Climate change itself may have a direct impact on air quality. Air quality modelling studies show that with warmer temperatures in the future, higher levels of ozone will be produced in North American cities.

Addressing the issues of air pollution and climate change may seem daunting. However, the good news is that because they come from the same sources, many of the actions that reduce air pollution can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To learn more, see Air Quality and Climate Change: Weighing the Options.

For more information on climate change, visit Air Quality and Climate Change and  Climate Change (Ministry of Environment).

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