Climate Change Impact on Respiratory Health

An estimated 6.5 million deaths are associated with air pollution every year.

  • Air pollution is a contributing factor in 1 in every 3 deaths from lung cancer, stroke, or heart disease.
  • 92% of people worldwide do not breathe clean air.
  • 87% of deaths from outdoor air pollution occur in low- and middle-income countries.

And the number of deaths are going to increase with more changes in climate.

What is Respiratory Health?

Respiratory health in layman language is absence of any respiratory diseases.

So now the question arises what are respiratory diseases?

Respiratory Diseases – diseases that affect the lungs and other parts of the respiratory system. 

They can be caused by infection, by smoking tobacco, or by breathing in secondhand tobacco smoke, radon, asbestos, or other forms of air pollution. They include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, pneumonia, and lung cancer. Also called lung disorder and pulmonary disease.

How Climate Change affect Respiratory Health?

An individual suffering from any respiratory disease is at high risk of being affected by climate change. 

Climate change factors such as Extreme Weather Events, more wildfires, high levels of allergens, increased insect and water-borne diseases, and high levels of air pollution affect the Respiratory Health.

Factors affecting respiratory health
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Extreme Weather Events:

  • The frequency and severity of weather events such as floods, droughts, heatwaves, etc. are rapidly increasing with changes in climate.
  • Increased Flooding will lead to an increase in fungi growth which exacerbates asthma and allergies.
  • For every 1°C rise in temperature, the risk of premature death among people suffering from respiratory illnesses increases by 6 times as compared to the rest of the population. 

Wildfire Smoke:

  • Climate change is resulting in longer and hotter summers which are contributing to more wildfires.
  • Wildfires smoke is more harmful than normal air particulate matter.
  • Smoke from a wildfire can travel hundreds of miles exposing a large number of people to fine particles, and other health-harming compounds.
  • As per a recent worldwide estimate, 339,000 deaths annually may be attributed to landscape fire smoke.


  • Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations are resulting in more pollen production, longer and earlier pollen season, and also making molds (a type of fungus) more allergic.
  • Change in the geospatial distribution of pollen, i.e. plant ranges and long-distance atmospheric transport moving polewards is also attributed to climate change.
  • With an increase in pollens the people suffering from respiratory illnesses are at higher risks.

Air Pollution:

  • Climate change and environmental pollution – in particular air pollution – are closely connected.
  • Climate change is likely to increase particulate matter in the air which is very harmful for people suffering from respiratory diseases.
  • Climate change results in the increase of ground-level ozone which affects lung functioning and also leads to an increase in premature deaths.
  • Air pollution is one of the major causes for the onset of asthma. 
  • Not only outdoor air pollution but also indoor air pollution is affecting the respiratory health of people and putting them at risk of being affecting with respiratory diseases.
  • In a study supported by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), more than 40% of the kids in Delhi were found to have ‘restricted’ lungs compared to 22% of the kids in rural areas in Uttarakhand and West Bengal. 
Air pollution impact on respiratory health
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What can be Done:

  • Promoting Policies that reduce climate change and improve environmental conditions have huge health co-benefits potentials. For example, an increase of 7% in total clean energy investment for the period 2012-2040 could prevent 1.7 million premature deaths from outdoor air pollution and 1.6 million deaths from indoor pollution in 2040.
  • Energy efficiency programs that reduce carbon emissions and air pollution, for the benefit of human health and well-being. Clean energy appliances have a key role to play: if solar LED lanterns were used in place of kerosene and candles, they would displace 90 Mt of CO2 emissions while reducing indoor air pollution and significantly improving the health and safety of end-users.
  • Spreading Awareness –  Very few people are aware of how climate change is impacting their respiratory health, spreading awareness is the key so that people who are either suffering or not suffering from respiratory illness can take necessary measures to protect them.
  • Reducing Private Traffic in towns by improving public transport can lead to better air quality. 
  • Planting non-allergic trees in cities because people living in cities are at higher risk of getting affected by allergic pollens coupled with the bad air quality in cities.
  • Minimizing outdoor activities on days with high pollution.  

My Opinion:

As per the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 12.6 million deaths each year are attributed to avoidable environmental risk factors. Deaths due to respiratory illnesses caused by the increased effect of climate change account for the major proportion of these deaths.

Governments across the world have to take big and immediate steps to prevent climate change. If we do not do something now the number of deaths due to climate change factors are going to increase very fast. We have to build a sustainable and healthy environment for the people living on earth. 

Remember the clock is ticking very fast and we have time until 2030 to prevent the irreversible cycles that are going to increase the effect due to climate change by many folds and we will not be able to do anything even if we want to. 

So, now is the time that humanity rise up and fight together against climate change. 


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Yash loves to read and write on issues such as climate change, renewable energy, SDGs, and other related issues. He wants to make people aware of climate change and encourage them to follow a sustainable lifestyle.

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