When fighting air pollution contributes to global warming: an environmental paradox

Published by Cédric - 26 days ago - Other Languages: FR, DE, ES, PT
Article author: Cédric DEPOND
Source: Nature Communications Earth & Environment

For decades, combating atmospheric pollution has been a major concern worldwide. Strict regulations have been implemented to reduce emissions of harmful substances such as sulfur dioxide, suspended particles, and other pollutants from human activities.

These efforts have borne fruit, with a significant improvement in air quality in many regions. However, a recent study, published by Norwegian researchers on April 3, 2024, raises a troubling question: does reducing air pollution contribute to worsening global warming?


Illustration image Pixabay

Scientists have long studied the impact of pollutant emissions on the climate, but it is now increasingly clear that decreasing these emissions can have unexpected consequences. Indeed, certain particles suspended in the atmosphere, such as sulfur dioxide, have a cooling effect by reflecting sunlight back into space. Reducing these particles, therefore, leads to a decrease in this cooling effect, thus contributing to planetary warming.

Data collected by satellites have allowed researchers to precisely quantify this paradoxical effect. According to the study, the reduction in atmospheric pollution could have accounted for up to 40% of the increase in energy responsible for global warming between 2001 and 2019. This discovery challenges some preconceived ideas about the link between air pollution and climate change.

The implications of these results are significant on several levels. First, they highlight the complexity of interactions between human activity and the climate. They also underline the importance of considering these side effects when developing environmental policies. Finally, they emphasize the urgency of combating both air pollution and the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

It is therefore essential to find a balance between reducing pollutant emissions and fighting climate change. The aim is obviously not to encourage ceasing the fight against air pollution, responsible for far too many deaths each year. It is not about choosing between two evils but about finding solutions that protect both human health and the environment. This requires a holistic approach, integrating both the reduction of air pollution and the transition to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources.
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