According to the study, hotter temperatures speed up the chemical reactions that create air pollutants like ozone and fine particulate matters, which impact public health.
Locations that get drier may also have worse air pollution because of less removal by rain and increased fires and windblown dust. As trees respond to higher temperatures, they will also emit more organic pollutants, the researchers said.
“As climate change affects air pollutant concentrations, it can have a significant impact on health worldwide, adding to the millions of people who die from air pollution each year,” said lead researcher Jason West, Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
For the study which appeared in the journal Nature Climate Change, the team used an ensemble of several global climate models to determine the number of premature deaths that would occur due to ozone and particulate matter in 2030 and 2100.
For each model, the team assessed the projected changes in ground-level air pollution that could be attributed to future climate change. They then overlaid these changes spatially on the global population, accounting for both population growth and expected changes in susceptibility to air pollution.
Five out of eight models predicted there will be more premature deaths in 2030, and seven of nine models in 2100.
“Our finding that most models show a likely increase in deaths is the clearest signal yet that climate change will be detrimental to air quality and health,” West noted.
In addition to exacerbating air pollution-related deaths, climate change is expected to affect health through changes in heat stress, access to clean water and food, severe storms and the spread of infectious diseases, the researchers said.