Climate change and air quality (particularly air pollution) are two different concepts, although they are interrelated and it is very important to know how to differentiate them in order to contribute to their improvement.
Climate change is the result of the emission of greenhouse effect gasses, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2) but also other gasses such as methane (CH4) or nitrous oxide (N2O), causing an increase in the global temperature of the planet. It is a global phenomenom, since the emissions of these gasses in one given place have effects on the entire planet. The energy sector is globally responsible for nearly 70% of the emissions of greenhouse gasses, and therefore the sector that can contribute the most to the reduction of these emissions.
Climate change is a global phenomenom, since the emissions of these gasses in one given place have effects on the entire planet
Air quality is related to atmospheric contamination, which is the presence of substances in the air that cause risks, damage or severe discomfort to people or properties of any nature.
Air quality in general, and particularly the quality of air in cities, is degraded when the concentration of determined atmospheric pollutants mainly caused by the production and use of energy (among others: particles, sulphure oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), tropospheric ozone (O3) or carbon monoxide (CO)), is greater than the established limit values and could damage the health of the area's citizens. This is a local phenomenom that directly affects people's health.
The following graphic shows the main differences between both concepts:
The main sources of CO2 emissions (extraction and burning of fossil fuels) are not just the most important factors affecting climate change but also important sources of air pollutants
Air pollution and climate change are quite related with each other. The main sources of CO2 emissions (extraction and burning of fossil fuels) are not just the most important factors affecting climate change but also important sources of air pollutants. Además, muchos contaminantes del aire que son nocivos para la salud humana y los ecosistemas contribuyen al cambio climático al afectar la cantidad de luz del sol que es reflejada o absorbida por la atmósfera, donde algunos contaminantes producen calentamiento y otros enfriamiento de la Tierra.
These pollutants, known as "short-lived climate pollutants" (SLCPs) include methane, black coal, ozone and sulphate aerosols. They have a very significant impact on climate. Black carbon and methane, especially, are among the main contributors to climate change after CO2.
This graph shows the composition and impact of SLCPs:
Prevention measures in Spain
At the national level, there is a plan underway known as Plan Nacional de Calidad del Aire 2017-2019, (National Air Quality Plan), which establishes a framework for 52 actions towards the improvement of air in Spain and the continuity of the previous plan.
In Madrid and Barcelona, the two most polluted cities in Spain, initiatives are underway to improve air quality and help mitigate climate change. Madrid has launched Plan A de Calidad del Aire y Cambio Climático, (Plan A of Air Quality and Climate Change), which presents 30 measures focused on achieving a sustainable city that guarantees the health of its citizens and faces the challenge of atmospheric contamination by reducing the emission of greenhouse gasses. These measures include the creation of a cental Zero Emissions area encompassing the most central areas in the city, and increasing the fleet of sustainable low-emissions public transport vehicles.
Barcelona has launched the Plan de la Energía, Cambio Climático y Calidad del Aire de Barcelona 2011-2020 (PECQ), (Energy, Climate Change and Air Quality Plan), a transition towards a more sustainable energy model that makes a more intelligent use of the resources of all activities and services in the city. This includes creating awareness in order to facilitate a necessary change in general mentality.