‘Global strategy needed’ to stop ozone deaths

Air pollution controls are failing to protect people and the environment from the harmful effects of ground level ozone and climate change will make the problem worse, the Royal Society has warned.

In a major new report, the society said that in the UK and other parts of the Northern Hemisphere, background concentrations of the pollutant have increased by 6% per decade since the 1980s.

More than 1,500 deaths in the UK in 2003 have been attributed to ozone – a figure which is expected to rise by 51% to 2391 in 2020.

Climate change will make it harder to reduce levels of ozone, while increased levels of ozone, which is a greenhouse gas, will also accelerate climate change, the society claimed.

Although the EU, the US and Japan have put controls in place to limit the production of chemicals that cause ground level ozone when combined with sunlight, the report said much of the ozone in these countries comes from other nations.

“Ozone is a global traveller and one of the most pervasive of air pollutants,” Professor David Fowler, chair of the Royal Society’s ground level ozone working group.

“Weather systems and jet streams transport ozone and the pollutants that lead to its formation, often far from their point of origin.”

He called for an international response to the problem, rather than national or regional policies.

“A coordinated global strategy bringing ozone into international frameworks for controlling air pollutants and greenhouse gases is required.

“The reduction of methane emissions would, for example, contribute both to the reduction of climate change and ozone pollution and all of the associated ecological and human health effects.”

Vehicle exhaust fumes and forest fires are common causes of ground level ozone, but the report pointed the finger at the growth of international shipping and its poor emission controls.

Research has found that ozone can reduce the quality and quantity of crops such as wheat, rice and soybean and crop losses are expected to increase over the next two to three decades.

Kate Martin

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie