What is COP26?
November 2021 saw the 26th annual COP held in Glasgow. Though delayed by a year due to COVID, it was a landmark event nonetheless as the highest attended COP in history. So, what exactly is COP? COP stands for Conference of the Parties, a United Nations climate change conference held annually to review progress of the signatories (parties) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The conference aims to create review and progress actions and accountability on pledges to limit climate change. The themes of this year’s COP were mitigation, adaptation, financing and collaborating to raise ambitions of meeting the target of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C. A standout achievement post COP is the dedication of 153 countries raising new 2030 emissions targets known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) with 90% of global GDP now being covered by net zero commitments.
The link between climate change and air quality
Climate change and air quality are often perceived as separate issues; however, they are two sides of the same coin with complex interactions. Climate change both impacts and is impacted by poor air quality. For example, the emissions that result in poor air quality and negatively impact human health such as nitrous oxides, carbon dioxide and methane also contribute to anthropogenic (human caused) global warming as greenhouse gases. In turn global warming increases events such as forest fires that can have both local impacts on the air, we breathe but also globally as particulates can also influence warming as they are circulated to remote places such as the polar regions where they reduce the amount of sunlight being reflected through the atmosphere.
What happened for air quality at COP26?
Declaration on accelerating the transition to 100% zero emission cars and vans:
Road transport is responsible for over 10% of greenhouse gas emissions and is the principal contributor to poor air quality. This COP saw a greater emphasis on decarbonisation of road transport with over 35 countries, 6 major carmakers, 43 cities, states, and regions, 28 fleet owners and 15 financial institutions and investors signing the declaration making greater promise to switch to electric vehicles. Currently only 0.5% of all licensed vehicles in the UK in 2018 were ultra-low emissions vehicles and therefore as this figure increases air quality monitoring provides an opportunity to demonstrate the local efficacy of switching to electric vehicles.
It is well established that the forests covering roughly 30% of the earth’s surface act as the world’s lungs, not only releasing oxygen from photosynthesis but acting as a carbon store with as much as 45% of land carbon being stored in forests. Deforestation is an issue as carbon that has been stably stored in the biomass of the plant will be removed, often burned for fuel, and replaced with low storing crops or pastures compounding the impact of removing the carbon store while increasing carbon releasing activities. However, in Glasgow, 141 countries sign to end deforestation by 2030, making the move to protect our carbon stores and producing the oxygen we breathe.
The fossil fuel industry saw more delegates at COP26 than any individual country making the pledges of the Clean Energy Transition to stop financing unabated overseas fossil fuels energy sector by end of 2022 and the Beyond Oil and Gas alliance bear greater significance. However, pressure from those that still benefit from fossil fuels was felt as pledges on coal in the Glasgow Climate Pact were reworded from “phase out” to “phase down” to gain support from China and the US. Fossil fuels contribute to poor air quality at every stage from extraction, refining and combustion as well as catastrophic pollution accidents. Without the largest emitters committing to the energy transition, we will rely on monitoring to provide us the data on the status quo of air impacted by such industries and build the case for cleaner energy.
Reduction of methane in our atmosphere is widely regarded as the most efficient strategy for reducing the momentum of global warming as it has been made accountable for at least 30% of global warming to date. Most methane emissions come from oil and gas industries and therefore the move of 105 countries signs the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030 is significant in supporting the energy transition in turn improving air quality and reducing global warming.
Pledges to actions: the role of low-cost air quality monitoring
The pledges to reduce fossil fuels, decarbonise sectors such as transport and the pledge to reduce methane in our atmosphere all serve to ultimately reduce emissions, global warming and in turn improve air quality. However, without data, poor air quality is an intangible issue that we can only witness once it’s too late.
We can use air quality monitoring as a method to mitigate against making the mistake of separating the issue of air quality from the climate crisis. it is impossible to know the exact need for localised measures until monitoring to establish the status quo has been undertaken. The data gathered from monitoring using platforms such as the SENSIT RAMP and SPOD can be used to identify where action needs to be taken and inform decision making. However, monitoring and provision of data is not only limited to making a case for change but also demonstrating the legacy and efficacy of actions taken to reduce pollutant gases and particulates to improve air quality and ultimately align with limiting climate change to 1.5°C as set out by the Glasgow Climate Pact.
Sensit by Crowcon RAMP and SPOD
The Sensit by Crowcon RAMP provides a solution for monitoring up to five gaseous pollutants and particulate matter in a robust, remote, and reliable way. For monitoring of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) the SPOD is a solution that is optimised for real time direct reading for localised emissions. These low cost yet robust units enable accessibility to data across industries to better inform and influence decision making on public and private climate change and sustainability strategies.
To find out more visit https://www.crowcon.com/air-quality/