The Priestley International Centre for Climate based at the University of Leeds brings together world-leading expertise to deliver research that underpins robust and timely solutions that address climate change and its impact on society and ecosystems. We are sponsoring a three-year PhD Scholarship starting from October 2020. The PhD will research the ‘Co-benefits of a low-carbon economy – improved air quality and reduced global warming’.


The problem

Air pollution kills around seven million people worldwide every year, and around 90% of the world’s population breathe air which is contaminated with high levels of pollution. In October 2019, the head of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) declared air pollution to be a UK health emergency.

Much of this air pollution is a result of burning fossil fuels in both industrial and household processes, as well as from petrol and diesel-powered vehicles. These fossil fuel emissions are also a direct cause of climate change, though public perception still fails to connect the two issues.

The drive towards a low carbon economy will see a significant reduction in emissions across a range of sectors. This will not only address the issues of climate change but also improve air quality and deliver a significant benefit for human health.

By demonstrating these co-benefits, a compelling case for the importance of reducing emissions can be made – and help to shift public perceptions towards the immediate benefit of taking these steps.

This project is closely aligned to UN Sustainable Development Goal 13 - To improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning.

Priestley Centre approach

Recent work in the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science has begun to investigate the changes in mortality associated with exposure to air pollution and how this mortality changes under different scenarios. Researchers at the Priestley Centre are already working with respiratory clinicians in the Leeds teaching hospitals using their most current mortality indices to examine the health impacts of these changing scenarios.

This project will use next-generation chemistry and climate models to explore the impact of the drive towards net-zero emissions and how this will lead to a parallel reduction in the toxic air pollutants to which the majority of the world’s population is exposed.


By demonstrating the direct local benefits to human health, which can be brought about by reducing pollutants, the benefit of emissions reductions will be reinforced, and drive a change in perception among the general public.

“I'm looking forward to getting started with this important research, exploring how to more clearly demonstrate that establishing a low carbon economy can not only reduce global warming, but also to improve our health. This is an exciting opportunity to make a significant contribution to the field that will help bridge the gap between the scientific world, the public and policymakers.”

Connor Clayton, Priestley PhD researcher

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