B.C. Air Quality

Air Quality and Climate Change

Poor air quality and climate change are very different phenomena, but their causes are similar: the release of air pollutants from a variety of sources and activities. Fossil fuel burning is the major source common to both. Taking actions to reduce the pollution from fossil fuel burning will help improve air quality and address climate change.

Poor Air Quality (Local / Regional)

Air quality issues, such as ground-level ozone, particulate matter (PM), the release of other air contaminants and acid rain largely occur in the lowest part of the atmosphere — which holds the air we breathe. Air pollution can occur locally (e.g., smoke from wood stoves or backyard burning) or regionally (e.g., forest-fire smoke, ground-level ozone and acid rain). The main causes of air pollution in B.C. are fossil fuel combustion and wood burning.

Climate Change (Global)

Global climate change refers to changes in the climate of the earth as a whole, caused by human activities releasing an overabundance of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

This unnatural buildup of greenhouse gases is warming the earth's atmosphere.

Global atmospheric warming, in turn, is triggering major alterations in the global climate. Climate change is expected to be accompanied by significant changes in regional temperatures, precipitation patterns and storm frequency. A worldwide rise in sea level associated with melting ice sheets and glaciers, and thermal expansion, is occurring. This is expected to accelerate over the coming century.

Fossil fuel burning is the major source of greenhouse gases, specifically: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). See Fossil Fuels and Energy Use for details.

The Major Greenhouse Gases

carbon dioxide (CO2)

Carbon dioxide is the main contributor to climate change. Human sources include:

  • fossil-fuel-based electrical power generation;
  • fossil fuel combustion in on-road motor vehicles (e.g., cars, trucks, trains);
  • off-road engines (e.g., snowmobiles, gas-powered garden tools);
  • airplanes;
  • marine vessels;
  • space heating in buildings (furnaces); and
  • industrial processes.

methane (CH4)

Human sources of methane include:

  • landfills;
  • oil-and-gas production and distribution;
  • cattle farming; and
  • rice farming.

nitrous oxide (N2O)

Human sources of nitrous oxide include:

  • agricultural activities;
  • wood and wood waste burning; and
  • industrial processes.


In this section:

For more information, visit the B.C. Climate Action Secretariat website.

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