Articles | Volume 16, issue 15
Research article
04 Aug 2016
Research article |  | 04 Aug 2016

Large gain in air quality compared to an alternative anthropogenic emissions scenario

Nikos Daskalakis, Kostas Tsigaridis, Stelios Myriokefalitakis, George S. Fanourgakis, and Maria Kanakidou

Abstract. During the last 30 years, significant effort has been made to improve air quality through legislation for emissions reduction. Global three-dimensional chemistry-transport simulations of atmospheric composition over the past 3 decades have been performed to estimate what the air quality levels would have been under a scenario of stagnation of anthropogenic emissions per capita as in 1980, accounting for the population increase (BA1980) or using the standard practice of neglecting it (AE1980), and how they compare to the historical changes in air quality levels. The simulations are based on assimilated meteorology to account for the year-to-year observed climate variability and on different scenarios of anthropogenic emissions of pollutants. The ACCMIP historical emissions dataset is used as the starting point. Our sensitivity simulations provide clear indications that air quality legislation and technology developments have limited the rapid increase of air pollutants. The achieved reductions in concentrations of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, black carbon, and sulfate aerosols are found to be significant when comparing to both BA1980 and AE1980 simulations that neglect any measures applied for the protection of the environment. We also show the potentially large tropospheric air quality benefit from the development of cleaner technology used by the growing global population. These 30-year hindcast sensitivity simulations demonstrate that the actual benefit in air quality due to air pollution legislation and technological advances is higher than the gain calculated by a simple comparison against a constant anthropogenic emissions simulation, as is usually done. Our results also indicate that over China and India the beneficial technological advances for the air quality may have been masked by the explosive increase in local population and the disproportional increase in energy demand partially due to the globalization of the economy.

Short summary
Three 30-year simulations of past atmospheric composition changes were performed using different anthropogenic emissions of pollutants accounting or not for the applied air quality legislation and accounting for the year–to–year observed climate and natural emissions variability. The actual benefit of applied legislation along with technological advances is higher than what is usually calculated by a simple comparison of today's atmosphere against a constant anthropogenic emissions simulation.
Final-revised paper