During the 2018 UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, the World Health Organization revealed new data analysing climate change and health. Air pollution is considered to be a major environmental risk to health. According to WHO’s data, 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants and around 7 million people every year die from exposure to fine particles in polluted air. In particular, fine particles in polluted air penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia. More than 90% of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in the Eastern Mediterranean region and in South-East Asia. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO said:
“It is unacceptable that over 3 billion people – most of them women and children – are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes.”
A main cause of the deaths is indoor cooking with inefficient stoves (more than 40% of the world’s population still do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies in their homes), followed by outdoor air pollution caused mainly by burning of fossil fuels for power, heating and transport. Thus, climate change and air pollution may be address simultaneously.
In addition, the WHO pointed out that recent unprecedented extreme weather events constitute a serious threat. Against the background of raising concentration of greenhouse gases, there is a real risk for the world to lose its capacity to sustain human life. In this context, Dr. Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, WHO Team Lead on Climate Change and Health, said:
“We see the Paris Agreement as a fundamental public health agreement, potentially the most important public health agreement of the century. If we don’t meet the climate challenge, if we don’t bring down greenhouse gas emissions, then we are undermining the environmental determinates of health on which we depend: we undermine water supplies, we undermine our air, we undermine food security.”
It is understood that if we do not adequately address air pollution issue and impact of climate change on health, we will never achieve sustainable development. Energy-efficient power generation and renewables, planning greener cities with energy-efficient buildings and new green technologies should be understood as key ways to tackle climate change as well as to significantly improve air quality. On the positive note, an increasing number of countries and cities measure air pollution levels and recognize the associated health impacts (see the WHO ambient air quality database). However, improving air quality requires sustained and coordinated government action at all levels, work on solutions for sustainable transport, more efficient and renewable energy production and use and waste management.