Why does air matter?

Chike Ojukwu

Air pollution, which kills an estimated 7 million people every year, is the biggest environmental health risk of our time.

Airborne pollutants are responsible for about one third of deaths from stroke, chronic respiratory disease, and lung cancer, as well as one quarter of deaths from heart attack. Air pollution is also fundamentally altering our climate, with profound impacts on the health of the planet.

Air pollution comes from many sources – from cookstoves and kerosene lamps to coal-fired power plants, vehicle emissions, industrial furnaces, wildfires, and sand and dust storms. The problem is most acute in urban areas, particularly in Africa and Asia. In low- and middle-income countries, 98 per cent of cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants fail to meet the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines.

The good news is that tackling air pollution can bring significant benefits for economies, human health, and the climate. That’s why we at UN Environment are working around the world to tackle air pollution – by supporting cleaner fuels and vehicles, inspiring individuals and city leaders to act, strengthening laws and institutions, and developing affordable technologies to monitor air quality. Read more about our initiatives here.

In 2017, UNEP  launched “Towards a pollution-free planet”, a report that serves as a call to action to governments, businesses, local authorities, civil society and individuals to prevent and reduce pollution, and clean up the planet.

The report was launched  ahead of the United Nations Environment Assembly,  held in December 2017 in Nairobi, Kenya under the overarching theme of pollution.

The report highlighted five overarching messages:

A global compact on pollution would make pollution prevention a priority for all.

Environmental governance needs to be strengthened at all levels.

Sustainable consumption and production, through improved resource efficiency and lifestyle changes, should be promoted; waste reduction and management must be prioritized.

Investment in cleaner production and consumption will help to counter pollution.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships and collaborations are vital for the innovation, knowledge-sharing and transdisciplinary research needed to develop technological and ecosystems- based solutions.

“Towards a pollution-free planet” reiterates that pollution is controllable and avoidable, and emphasizes the role of multilateral environmental agreements, including on climate change, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its numerous pollution-reducing targets. The report was launched during the first Conference of Parties for the Minamata Convention which addresses mercury issues and is a major agreement to protect human health and the environment.

It further propose 50 focused and actionable interventions to address pollution in all its forms, such as moving to electric mobility; treating, recycling, reusing wastewater to reduce discharge in freshwater bodies; and advancing safer alternatives for toxic chemicals though sustainability chemistry.

With these concrete examples, UN Environment seeks to empower governments, businesses, civil society organizations and individuals to take a stand against pollution, as well as take action to #BeatPollution by making a voluntary commitment on the UN Environment website.

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