Air pollution and associated human mortality: the role of air pollutant emissions, climate change and methane concentration increases during the industrial period
1Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, 08540, USA
2Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton, NJ, 08540, USA
3Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, 08540, USA
Abstract. Increases in surface ozone (O3) and fine particulate matter (≤2.5 μm} aerodynamic diameter, PM2.5) are associated with excess premature human mortalities. Here we estimate changes in surface O3 and PM2.5 since preindustrial (1860) times and the global present-day (2000) premature human mortalities associated with these changes. We go beyond previous work to analyze and differentiate the contribution of three factors: changes in emissions of short-lived air pollutants, climate change, and increased methane (CH4) concentrations, to air pollution levels and the associated premature mortalities. We use a coupled chemistry-climate model in conjunction with global population distributions in 2000 to estimate exposure attributable to concentration changes since 1860 from each factor. Attributable mortalities are estimated using health impact functions of long-term relative risk estimates for O3 and PM2.5 from the epidemiology literature. We find global mean surface PM2.5 and health-relevant O3 (defined as the maximum 6-month mean of 1-h daily maximum O3 in a year) have increased by 8 ± 0.16 μg m−3 and 30 ± 0.16 ppbv, respectively, over this industrial period as a result of combined changes in emissions of air pollutants (EMIS), climate (CLIM) and CH4 concentrations (TCH4). EMIS, CLIM and TCH4 cause global average PM2.5(O3) to change by +7.5 ± 0.19 μg m−3 (+25 ± 0.30 ppbv), +0.4 ± 0.17 μg m−3 (+0.5 ± 0.28 ppbv), and −0.02 ± 0.01 μg m−3 (+4.3 ± 0.33 ppbv), respectively. Total changes in PM2.5 are associated with 1.5 (95% confidence interval, CI, 1.0–2.5) million all-cause mortalities annually and in O3 are associated with 375 (95% CI, 129–592) thousand respiratory mortalities annually. Most air pollution mortality is driven by changes in emissions of short-lived air pollutants and their precursors (95% and 85% of mortalities from PM2.5 and O3, respectively). However, changing climate and increasing CH4 concentrations also increased premature mortality associated with air pollution globally up to 5% and 15%, respectively. In some regions, the contribution of climate change and increased CH4 together are responsible for more than 20% of the respiratory mortality associated with O3 exposure. We find the interaction between climate change and atmospheric chemistry has influenced atmospheric composition and human mortality associated with industrial air pollution. In addition to driving 13% of the total historical changes in surface O3 and 15% of the associated mortalities, CH4 is the dominant factor driving changes in atmospheric OH and H2O2 since preindustrial time. Our study highlights the benefits to air quality and human health of CH4 mitigation as a component of future air pollution control policy.