Over 90% of the world’s population is exposed to unhealthy air quality. From claiming millions of lives worldwide to damaging nature, crops and other assets, air pollution is one of the most important environmental, health and economic risks of our time.
Air pollution is an environmental health problem that affects people worldwide. However while 91% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality exceeds WHO guideline limits, people living in low- and middle-income countries disproportionately experience this burden. Over 90% of pollution-related deaths, ranging from heart disease to lung cancer, occur in these countries.
Air pollution also contributes to ozone depletion, climate change, acid rain and the introduction of toxins to the food chain. It is thought to cost the global economy $4.6 trillion per year, equivalent to 6.2% of global economic output.
World Environment Day 2019 shines a light on this pressing issue by providing a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated in over 100 countries. This year, the Day’s official celebrations are being hosted by China in support of international efforts to address air pollution.
More than 7,000 mayors, representing nearly 675 million people, or more than 9 per cent of the global population, have committed to reducing their cities’ air pollution emissions in recent years. As national and local governments commit to tackling this challenge through a variety of measures, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) continues to implement initiatives aimed at improving air quality in a number of countries.
Saving the ozone layer
For most of the last century, powerful greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting substances (ODS) were used in refrigeration systems. When released to the atmosphere, these substances damage the stratospheric ozone layer, the Earth’s shield that protects humans and the environment from harmful levels of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer regulates the production and consumption of nearly 100 such chemicals, including HCFCs and CFCs. Now, the Kigali Amendment to the Protocol targets hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which are not ODS but do contribute significantly to global warming.
UNIDO works together with governments, industries, vocational schools and other stakeholders to combat this “hidden threat” to human health and the environment by ensuring containment and/or proper disposal of these dangerous chemicals in industrial facilities in more than 100 countries. From taking steps to protect against leaks in equipment containing HCFCs/CFCs, to upgrading and introducing new technologies and natural refrigerants, UNIDO implements a wide range of practical interventions. These combine to help countries meet their obligations under the Protocol, reduce energy consumption and to support climate change efforts at the global level, while also helping to reduce air pollution.
Reducing industrial toxics
Energy intensive industrial sectors continue to generate emissions of toxic pollutants, such as particulate matter, heavy metals and unintentional persistent organic pollutants proven to have damaging effects on both human health and the environment. UNIDO works with these sectors globally to pursue the reduction of these pollutants. This is achieved through the development and implementation of Best Available Techniques and Best Environmental Practices (BAT/BEP) which help to reduce emissions, improve air quality, and enhance energy efficiency in countries all over the world.
Health and Pollution Action Plans
UNIDO has also assisted Ministries of Environment and Health and other stakeholders in Colombia, Ghana, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Philippines and the United Republic of Tanzania with studies of the health impacts of pollution, including air pollution. Priority challenges and solutions identified were documented and presented to governments in the form of Health and Pollution Action Plans (HPAP). In most of these countries, the HPAPs prioritized the adverse health impacts of ambient air pollution caused by vehicle emissions due to institutional weaknesses in vehicle inspections, standards and monitoring systems.
While air pollution persists, UNIDO remains committed to working together with partners to address this global threat through innovative solutions that benefit both people and the planet.