A Race Against Time: Prof Anthony Costello on the Urgency of Climate Action

Air quality and climate change are perhaps the two greatest environmental challenges of modern times, demanding urgent action. More than nine million deaths are attributed to air pollution each year, while climate change amplifies existing risks and creates new ones.

This includes more frequent extreme weather events like floods and droughts, rising sea levels threatening coastal communities, and the change in the spread of diseases into new regions. However, solutions do exist, and technological innovation will play a crucial role.

To explore this further, Srivatsan Raj, Research Associate in Air Quality & Net Zero at Trilateral Research, sat down with Professor Anthony Costello, a pioneer in global health and leader of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, to discuss how we can use new technology to drive environmental action.

Prof. Anthony Costello paints a stark picture of the challenges ahead. “Things are moving faster and getting worse than we even predicted,” he warns in the interview, emphasising the urgency of the climate crisis. Yet, Costello remains a steadfast optimist, believing in the power of human ingenuity, especially when faced with adversity. He believes that the severe impacts of climate change will galvanise us into action. “Humans are ingenious, especially when forced,” he says. “The severe impacts of climate change will hopefully create a unity we desperately need.”

The Tangible Threat of Air Pollution

Prof. Costello emphasises that  air pollution, being tangible and visible isa key battleground in the fight against climate change. ‘It’s the biggest environmental issue globally,’ he states. Unlike CO2, air pollution is tangible and visible, making its health impacts easier to grasp. Tackling air pollution, he argues, is a crucial step in addressing both climate change and public health.

Technology plays a central role in Costello’s vision for change. He advocates for widespread, accessible air quality monitoring at the local level. “Imagine knowing your street’s air quality is three times the safe limit,” he suggests. ‘That creates pressure on politicians and mobilises communities for action.’

Trilateral Research’s STRIAD:AIR solution is turning environmental data into actionable insights. For instance, our analysis of the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) expansion reveals it could prevent over 1,300 cases of asthma annually, demonstrating the tangible health benefits of such initiatives – to learn more see our blog for more detailed on the ULEZ analysis.

Empowering Grassroots Change

Prof. Costello envisions a world where individuals are empowered with real-time data on their local environment, fostering grassroots pressure for change. This vision is being realised in County Meath, Ireland, where Trilateral Research’s STRIAD:AIR is integrated into the Meath Environmental Platform. This platform provides residents with hyperlocal air pollution insights, linking it to health impacts and costs to health services, empowering residents to understand the direct effects of air pollution on their health and community, encouraging support for local climate action.

Prof Costello believes that equipping communities with this knowledge will drive grassroots pressure for change. ‘Imagine your local school campaigning because the pollution levels they’re monitoring are unsafe,” he proposes. “That shifts the power dynamics to those most at risk, where politicians can’t afford to ignore it.’

A Call for Courageous Leadership and Systemic Shifts

The challenges are immense, but Prof. Costello remains optimistic. He calls for courageous political leadership to implement systemic shifts, such as shifting the tax burden from income to pollution. He cites London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone as an example of a bold policy that initially faced criticism but ultimately proved successful in reducing air pollution levels by about 30%.

Costello acknowledges the resistance to change, particularly from those who benefit from the current economic system. However, he believes we are nearing a tipping point where the urgency of the climate crisis will overcome this resistance. ‘We’ve made major agreements – the Paris Agreement, the SDGs,’ he says. ‘I believe we’re nearing a social and political tipping point, where we’ll mobilise to overcome the resistance before the planet’s changes become truly irreversible.’

Prof. Costello’s message is clear: the time for action is now. We cannot afford to be complacent in the face of the climate crisis. ‘We can’t be doom-mongers, but ignoring the reality won’t help either. We must harness the power of technology, empower local communities, and demand courageous leadership to secure a healthier planet for future generations.’

Trilateral Research is turning environmental data into actionable insights with our STRIAD:AIR solution to understand the impacts of air pollution. Find out more about how we harness the power of ethical AI to address the climate change and air quality. 


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