Climatic Change

, Volume 121, Issue 2, pp 239-253

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Impacts of 21st century climate change on global air pollution-related premature mortality

  • Yuanyuan FangAffiliated withWoodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton UniversityDepartment of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science
  • , Denise L. MauzerallAffiliated withWoodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton UniversityCivil and Environmental Engineering Department, Princeton University Email author 
  • , Junfeng LiuAffiliated withCollege of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University
  • , Arlene M. FioreAffiliated withDepartment of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University and Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory
  • , Larry W. HorowitzAffiliated withGeophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


Climate change modulates surface concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone (O3), indirectly affecting premature mortality attributed to air pollution. We estimate the change in global premature mortality and years of life lost (YLL) associated with changes in surface O3 and PM2.5 over the 21st century as a result of climate change. We use a global coupled chemistry-climate model to simulate current and future climate and the effect of changing climate on air quality. Epidemiological concentration-response relationships are applied to estimate resulting changes in premature mortality and YLL. The effect of climate change on air quality is isolated by holding emissions of air pollutants constant while allowing climate to evolve over the 21st century according to a moderate projection of greenhouse gas emissions (A1B scenario). Resulting changes in 21st century climate alone lead to an increase in simulated PM2.5 concentrations globally, and to higher (lower) O3 concentrations over populated (remote) regions. Global annual premature mortality associated with chronic exposure to PM2.5 increases by approximately 100 thousand deaths (95 % confidence interval, CI, of 66–130 thousand) with corresponding YLL increasing by nearly 900 thousand (95 % CI, 576–1,128 thousand) years. The annual premature mortality due to respiratory disease associated with chronic O3 exposure increases by +6,300 deaths (95 % CI, 1,600–10,400). This climate penalty indicates that stronger emission controls will be needed in the future to meet current air quality standards and to avoid higher health risks associated with climate change induced worsening of air quality over populated regions.