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Tackling air pollution and climate change together – an impact case study

Recognizing the value of SEI York’s work integrating air pollution and climate change mitigation, the University of York’s Environment and Geography Department included it as an impact case study in its REF2021 submission. Read about this work, which helped the department become ranked as one of the best of its kind for research impact.

Johan C.I. Kuylenstierna, Kevin Hicks, Chris Malley / Published on 1 September 2022

SEI has a partnership with the University of York and SEI’s York centre sits within the University’s Environment and Geography Department (EGD). This work by SEI York’s air pollution team was submitted by the department as one of three impact case studies for the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise and contributed to the department being ranked second for impact in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences in the Times Higher Education REF 2021 ranking.

SEI is proud to contribute to the University of York’s continuing reputation for research with impact that makes a positive difference to communities around the world.

University of York logo with university shield and name

The issue

Air pollution and climate change are closely linked. The sources of health-damaging air pollutants and climate-warming greenhouse gases are often the same, including transport, industry, households, agriculture and waste. In addition, a subset of pollutants, short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), directly contribute to both issues. SLCPs include black carbon (or soot), which contributes to particulate matter air pollution and warms the atmosphere. Methane is the second largest contributor to climate change behind carbon dioxide, and contributes to the formation of tropospheric ozone, a toxic air pollutant.

These two links mean that there is a substantial opportunity to design plans, strategies and policies which achieve global climate change goals and benefits for local air pollution and public health simultaneously. As part of the Paris Agreement of 2015, governments from over 190 countries have developed Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – climate action plans outlining each country’s commitment to dealing with climate change. 

Understanding the extent of the impact of SLCPs, and knowing how to reduce them, is key to helping governments formulate research-driven climate plans and put them into practice, bringing us all closer to reaching the international climate change targets. Studying the global impact of SLCPs also provides insights into the impact these air pollutants have on human health.

The research

Since 2012 SEI York has worked at the forefront of research into SLCPs. Working with organizations including the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and NDC Partnership, SEI York researchers have supported approximately 25 countries to increase their capacity to reduce SLCPs. 

As part of this work, SEI extended the existing planning tool LEAP (Low Emissions Analysis Platform system) to assess the impacts on human health and climate change mitigation strategies.

SEI has delivered bespoke training to government officials, academics and NGOs in partner countries on the development of integrated air pollution and climate change mitigation assessments. Training and supporting local organizations to undertake such assessments demonstrates, often for the first time, the extent of health issues caused by exposure to air pollution, as well as the impact of SLCPs on climate change. It also helps identify possible solutions to reduce these impacts. SEI supports the integration of these assessments into national planning processes, so that the assessment can inform decision making and target setting.  

SEI York has also produced significant assessments of the global impacts of air pollutants on premature births and annual asthma emergency room visits. Following the 2015 revelations that car manufacturers had been using software which deliberately misled regulatory testing, SEI York were the first to publish a study to quantify the effects of hidden excess nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel vehicles.

The outcome

SEI York’s research has supported multiple policy and planning processes in partner countries. In advance of the COP26 UN Climate Conference in November 2021, 17 countries were supported by SEI York to submit more ambitious climate change plans that included actions on SLCPs. Ten countries, with support from SEI York, have also developed National Action Plans to reduce SLCPs, which have been endorsed at a Ministerial or Cabinet level.   

In addition to these impacts on national government policy and practice, research by SEI York has provided robust evidence to back calls for strengthening global and regional climate responses. One project alone was cited in 94 policy documents from around the world, including by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Featured researchers

Johan C.I. Kuylenstierna

Reader / Research Leader

SEI York

Kevin Hicks

Senior Research Fellow

SEI York

Lisa Emberson
Lisa Emberson

SEI Affiliated Researcher

SEI York

Chris Malley

Senior Research Fellow

SEI York

Eleni Michalopoulou

Research Associate

SEI York

Read more about SEI’s work on air pollution in our feature for the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies 2022.

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