Global call to tackle air pollution

Print edition : August 02, 2019

A Delhi Police traffic constable wearing a face mask on a smoggy day. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Countries across the world must urgently adopt emissions controls and air monitoring systems for the worst pollutants if they are to grapple with the growing problem of air pollution causing millions of deaths each year, five national academies have said in a global call for action. The Academies of Sciences and Medicine from South Africa, Brazil, Germany, and the United States issued a joint statement, which they presented at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, calling for intensified funding and action under a new global compact to tackle air pollution.

Air pollution causes some seven million premature deaths every year and has also been linked to climate change. If we were to reduce short-lived pollutants, such as methane and black carbon, we could reduce global warming by up to 0.5°C over the next few decades, simultaneously avoiding 2.4 million premature deaths, the release said.

According to the academies, the biggest contributors to air pollution are fossil fuel and biomass combustion used for power generation, cooking, transport and agriculture. Air pollution from fossil fuels is particularly adverse for humans as it contains large amounts of particulate matter, which enter the body and damage its organs. With the global economic costs of disease caused by air pollution across 176 countries in 2015 estimated to be $138 million, the academies call for this preventable problem to be addressed in tandem with climate change mitigation and sustainable development.

The academies note that existing international agreements, including the Montreal Protocol, the U.N. Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, and the World Health Assembly Resolution on Air Pollution address different aspects of air pollution, but none includes a comprehensive plan for air pollution control. The academies recommend that all countries make air pollution reduction a priority by placing emission controls on industry and embracing clean fuels. The academies therefore propose the adoption of a new Global Compact on Air Pollution and Health. The Compact would recognise the right to clean air, ensure sustained engagement to tackle air pollution at the highest level, and make pollution control a priority in all development strategies and all business planning in every city and country.

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