Every year, air pollution causes about 7 million premature deaths. In light of this significant health threat, a 2011 assessment by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization identified a set of 19 policy measures, which, if implemented globally, could prevent between 2.4 million and 3.5 premature deaths every year by 2030, and up to 5 million premature deaths by 2050.
Air pollution by pollutants called Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCPs) - black carbon, ozone and methane – can effectively be dealt with. SLCPs, unlike carbon dioxide have a short life expectancy once released in the atmosphere. However, they also have a strong “climate forcing potential” which contributes to global warming. Black carbon (a component of fine particulate matter, PM2.5 – fine particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less, e.g. released from fossil fuel combustion in vehicles) has the most significant influence on premature deaths, while ozone impacts the respiratory system. Finally, methane (e.g. released from landfill) contributes to the formation of tropospheric ozone.
It is therefore imperative to address and reduce air pollution from SLCPs. Helena Molin Valdés, head of the UNEP-hosted Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), stresses: “Quick action to reduce black carbon, methane and other ozone precursors are much needed now. We know that the sooner we start reducing these pollutants the sooner we will relieve the pressures on climate and human health”.
On October 22nd, the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with the CCAC released a report for policy makers offering a total of 19 available and affordable policy options to mitigate SLCPs in the transport, agriculture, household energy production, buildings, industry, electricity generation and waste management sectors. The report also focuses specifically on reducing SLCPs in cities and urban areas. Policy-makers will find in this report the wide-ranging health benefits of reducing air pollution from SLCPs and a number of policy actions that also have “high” probability of reducing health risks and mitigating near-term climate change.
ICLEI, a member of the CCAC, operates the carbonn Climate Registry, a global reporting platform for local and subnational governments that address climate change. This will soon include tracking air pollution and health data, as part of ICLEI’s work in the CCAC. Data in the cCR shows how addressing climate change and air pollution can have a range of benefits, including health, stimulating local job creation and many others. Improving air pollution and urban health ranks among the most frequent co-benefits of local climate action.
For more information, download the full WHO and CCAC report here or read the web story here.