With both climate change and air quality on political and social agendas from local to global scale, the links between these hitherto separate fields are becoming more apparent. Black carbon, largely from combustion processes, scatters and absorbs incoming solar radiation, contributes to poor air quality and induces respiratory and cardiovascular problems. Uncertainties in the amount, location, size and shape of atmospheric black carbon cause large uncertainty in both climate change estimates and toxicology studies alike. Increased research has led to new effects and areas of uncertainty being uncovered. Here we draw together recent results and explore the increasing opportunities for synergistic research that will lead to improved confidence in the impact of black carbon on climate change, air quality and human health. Topics of mutual interest include better information on spatial distribution, size, mixing state and measuring and monitoring.