Interaction of climate change and ozone depletion multiplies risks

Together, climate change and ozone depletion is proving to be a lethal combination likely to significantly increase the hazards to health and environment, beyond current projections, according to emerging research.

Speaking at the first conference into the combined effects of changes in the global atmosphere at Orvieto, Italy on 5 October, Dr Roberto Bertollini, Director, Division of Technical Support, World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Europe, said, “The potential damaging impacts of the interaction between climate change and ozone depletion are very significant. Urgent action is required to reduce both environmental damage and its impact on health”.

Dr Bettina Menne from WHO’s European Centre for Environment and Health, told edie, that new research suggests that the cancer-forming capacity of UV-radiation is enhanced at higher temperatures. This raises major concerns where increased exposure to UV radiation linked to ozone depletion is occurring at a time of rising temperatures produced by climate change.

Rising temperatures could also accentuate the effects of UV radiation linked with increased incidence of eye cataracts and reduced effectiveness of the immune system in fighting infection. Ozone depletion also contributes to photochemical smog; and environmentally, is linked to global warming processes when an accumulation of ozone occurs lower down in the atmosphere following breakdown of ozone in the upper atmosphere.

The conference was the first step in identifying research priorities and preventative strategies for the 51 countries in the WHO European region. Amongst the possible action plans suggested to member countries to try to counter these effects were: strengthening measures to reduce air pollution; developing, testing, implementing and evaluating weather watch warning systems; further developing and implementing vaccination programmes; enforcing monitoring and surveillance programmes; promoting adequate disaster preparedness programmes, and adequate land-use planning in the case of extreme events such as flooding; and, promoting “healthy buildings” at the technical/engineering level.

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