ClimPol: “Climate Change and Air Pollution - Research Needs and Pathways to Policy Implementation”


Air pollution is currently one of the most important environmental problems worldwide. According to the Global Burden of Disease study, 4.2 million premature deaths were caused by outdoor air pollution in 2015 (Landrigan et al., 2018). Pollutants such as particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter smaller than 2.5 µm (PM2.5), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and tropospheric ozone (O3) are a cause of cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and premature death (EEA, 2017; Rückerl et al., 2011). Urban areas have a relatively higher health burden due to the high concentration of population and emissions. Data from 2015-2017 shows that in Europe, ca. 80% of urban populations were exposed to air pollution concentrations of PM2.5, which exceeded World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines (EEA, 2019). For ozone, this value is even higher, at ca. 95%. In Germany and Europe, and indeed in many locations globally, poor urban air quality is mainly related to mobility, with transport emissions a main source of particulate matter (Karagulian et al., 2015) and nitrogen oxides, an important ozone precursor gas (EEA, 2019; Kuik et al., 2018). Despite improvements in recent years, between 40 and 60% of all traffic measurement locations in Germany have exceeded the air quality limit value for nitrogen dioxide (Minkos, Dauert, Feigenspan, & Kessinger, 2019). This is however not unique to Germany; the problem remains widespread throughout Europe, with exceedances across the continent and almost all exceedances being registered at traffic stations (EEA, 2019).

Air quality limit values serve to protect human health. Due to years of non-compliance, the complaints and actions of the European Commission are now forcing cities to re-evaluate their air quality action plans and, if necessary, consider drastic measures, including bans on diesel vehicles, to comply with limit values and protect public health (EC, 2018). The effectiveness of the proposed measures is typically assessed on the basis of model simulations. However, these estimates are uncertain for the small scale at which they are relevant due to the lack of reliable measurement data with appropriate resolution and coverage in cities. In ClimPol we address this research gap by using new small sensor systems for air quality measurement to generate datasets of urban air pollution distribution with higher spatial and temporal coverage, including the quantification of the role of infrastructure and mobility policy on air pollution concentrations.

Air pollution also incurs major economic costs on the order of 1.4 trillion USD annually (as of 2010) to the European Region (OECD, 2015). Additionally, air quality and climate change are connected as a number of air pollutants are also short-lived climate forcing pollutants (SLCPs). Therefore, attempts to tackle issues of poor air quality often have the additional benefit of mitigating climate change and vice versa (Kopp et al., 2010; Melamed et al., 2016).

Considering the substantial importance of mobility to the problems of air quality and the subsequent health effects, as well as climate change, it is clear that a transformation towards sustainable mobility is needed, particularly in cities. Furthermore, if significant reductions in emissions from the transport sector are to be achieved, there must be a change in current transport behaviors.

To facilitate a societal transformation to a sustainable future, awareness and action are required not only in science or policy, but also at the level of every individual. Against this background, ClimPol focuses on the scientific foundation and pathways to policy implementation to support and co-design the necessary mobility transition in urban areas for sustainable, liveable cities. To put this into practice, the project follows a transdisciplinary approach in the science-policy-society system, working with actors from policy and civil society throughout our research process, enabling dialogues among policymakers, the public, and the scientific community, and fostering public awareness.

ClimPol is currently active in three main areas:

  • Supporting coordinated, scientifically informed, policy development in Germany and the EU
  • Scientific research, including collaboration with the international scientific community
  • Fostering awareness through communication and public engagement



For more specific examples of how this translates into practice, please view our current and past projects under ‘activities’.



EEA, 2019. Air quality in Europe - 2019 report. European Environment Agency, Luxembourg.

European Commission. (2018). Commissioner Vella calls air quality ministerial summit on 30 January , and announces new measures to help Member States comply with environmental laws. Retrieved from

Karagulian, F., Belis, C.A., Dora, C.F.C., Prüss-Ustün, A.M., Bonjour, S., Adair-Rohani, H., Amann, M., 2015. Contributions to cities' ambient particulate matter (PM): A systematic review of local source contributions at global level. Atmospheric Environment 120, 475-483.

Kopp, R. E., Mauzerall, D. L., Chameides, W. L., & Wilson, D. A. (2010). Assessing the climatic benefits of black carbon mitigation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(26), 11703–11708. Retrieved from

Kuik, F., Kerschbaumer, A., Lauer, A., Lupascu, A., von Schneidemesser, E., Butler, T.M., 2018. Top–down quantification of NOx emissions from traffic in an urban area using a high-resolution regional atmospheric chemistry model. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 18, 8203-8225.

Landrigan, P.J., Fuller, R., Acosta, N.J.R., Adeyi, O., Arnold, R., Basu, N.N., Balde, A.B., Bertollini, R., Bose-O'Reilly, S., Boufford, J.I., Breysse, P.N., Chiles, T., Mahidol, C., Coll-Seck, A.M., Cropper, M.L., Fobil, J., Fuster, V., Greenstone, M., Haines, A., Hanrahan, D., Hunter, D., Khare, M., Krupnick, A., Lanphear, B., Lohani, B., Martin, K., Mathiasen, K.V., McTeer, M.A., Murray, C.J.L., Ndahimananjara, J.D., Perera, F., Potocnik, J., Preker, A.S., Ramesh, J., Rockstrom, J., Salinas, C., Samson, L.D., Sandilya, K., Sly, P.D., Smith, K.R., Steiner, A., Stewart, R.B., Suk, W.A., van Schayck, O.C.P., Yadama, G.N., Yumkella, K., Zhong, M., 2018. The Lancet Commission on pollution and health. Lancet 391, 462-512.

Melamed, M. L., Schmale, J., & von Schneidemesser, E. (2016). Sustainable policy - key considerations for air quality and climate change. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 23, 85–91.

Minkos, A., Dauert, U., Feigenspan, S., Kessinger, S., 2019. Air Quality 2018 Preliminary Evaluation. Umweltbundesamt, Dessau-Roßlau.

Rückerl, R., Schneider, A., Breitner, S., Cyrys, J., Peters, A., 2011. Health effects of particulate air pollution: A review of epidemiological evidence. Inhal Toxicol 23, 555-592.

WHO Regional Office for Europe OECD. (2015). Economic cost of the health impact of air pollution in Europe: Clean air, health and wealth. European Environment and Health Processes, 1–54.