A Global View of Air Pollution

BY ON November 28, 2018
Flags representing the nations of the world were on display at World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland

Flags representing the nations of the world were on display at World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland

Air is the great unifier. Every person, every place, every minute — we all share the air.

But across the world, in places too many to count, the air we breathe is polluted and unhealthy. Air pollution is a leading cause of death worldwide. It causes 7 million premature deaths each year, or 1 in 9 of all deaths. Children are especially vulnerable to dangerous air pollution: 93% of the world’s children live in areas with air pollution levels that exceed World Health Organization guidelines. That is most of the world’s children, breathing unhealthy air every minute of every day.

These latest and deeply troubling statistics on air pollution’s harms were released last month by the World Health Organization in conjunction with the first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health, held in Geneva, Switzerland, where hundreds of researchers, delegates, health officials, and advocates gathered to talk about how air pollution harms health, and what we can do about it.

The global burden of air pollution comes from both ambient sources (cars, trucks, power plants, factories, agriculture) and household sources (cooking). According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is a major contributor to the leading causes of death, responsible for 43% of all deaths from lung disease, 29% of deaths from lung cancer, 25% of deaths from heart disease, and 24% of deaths from stroke. Air pollution also affects cognitive function, the metabolism, and pregnancy outcomes. And much of it comes from the same sources fueling dangerous climate change: The burning of fossil fuels.

This important confluence is the key to an enormous opportunity. Both air pollution and climate change are global public health emergencies, and their causes almost completely overlap. This means that both problems can be fixed through the same solutions – an efficient, rapid, and dedicated transition to zero-carbon and zero-methane electricity, cooking, and transportation, globally.

Dr. Maria Neira, Director of Public Health and the Environment at WHO, was joined at the conference by Gina McCarthy, professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and former Administrator of the EPA

Dr. Maria Neira, Director of Public Health and the Environment at WHO, was joined at the conference by Gina McCarthy, professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and former Administrator of the EPA

Among the clean air champions from around the world who attended the WHO conference, Ravina Raj Kohli is organizing moms and kids in New Delhi, India, to fight for clean air, with MCAF's health and policy director, Molly Rauch

Among the clean air champions from around the world who attended the WHO conference, Ravina Raj Kohli is organizing moms and kids in New Delhi, India, to fight for clean air, with MCAF’s health and policy director, Molly Rauch

At the Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health, Moms Clean Air Force joined advocates, scientists, and leaders from across the world to connect and strategize about how to tackle this global crisis. It was inspiring and humbling to connect with advocates and organizers from every continent working to clean up the air and safeguard climate security. The conference spurred more than 70 formal commitments to improve air quality from countries, cities, UN organizations, intergovernmental organizations, and civil society. Although urgent action is needed at a much larger scale, these commitments will lead to significant health, climate, and economic benefits, and they will help build momentum for efforts both close to home and far afield to tackle air pollution.

WATCH: Molly Rauch’s presentation at the WHO Global Conference on Air Pollution HERE. (Go to the “Parallel” section, look for “Reducing air pollution – improving children’s health,” 31/10/18, 11:30-13:00  at 1:22:00. It is about 6 minutes long.)

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TOPICS: Air Pollution, Children's Health