Climate change and air quality strongly influence each other. RIVM measures and calculates the levels of air pollution in the Netherlands and studies the effects of air pollution and climate change on nature and health.

Climate change can lead to poorer air quality. More sunshine in the summer creates more ozone smog and trees emit more volatile hydrocarbons. This in turn contributes to the formation of particulate matter. Heat waves often coincide with periods of ozone smog. The combination of heat and smog leads to increased mortality among the elderly and people with poor health.

The main greenhouse gases responsible for climate change are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide (N2O) and ozone. Methane also causes air pollution and contributes to rising background concentrations of ozone.

Fossil fuels

Burning fossil fuels and biomass releases different types of particles into the air. All these particles affect the formation of clouds and thus the reflection of sunlight and the amount and duration of rain. Sulphur particles reflect radiation and have a cooling effect. Soot particles, on the other hand, absorb the radiation and therefore cause additional warming. If these soot particles end up on snow or ice, there is less reflection of sunlight. This contributes to global warming and the melting of ice on glaciers and poles.

The sources of air pollution and greenhouse gases are often the same. The burning of fossil fuels, by industry, traffic and buildings, produces emissions of carbon dioxide as well as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Less use of fossil energy therefore leads to both less CO2 emissions and less air pollution. Climate policy is therefore generally also good for air quality. But there are also areas of conflict. Burning biomass, for example, can partly cancel the benefits.

Global warming can also cause an increase in greenhouse gases. If the earth continues to warm up, more energy will be needed for air conditioning, for example. This in turn can lead to more emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants.


Changing our behavior by saving energy, cycling instead of driving, flying less and replacing meat will therefore have a positive effect on both the climate and air quality.