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The World Clean Air Congress and Asian Better Air Quality Conference, jointly meeting this week in Busan, South Korea, opened with a stark warning from World Health Organization Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan that worldwide there is a long way to go in tackling the health effects of air pollution and the toll of premature mortality.
Her warning will be reinforced by new scientific assessments to be reported to the meeting today (Tuesday) and tomorrow. These conclude that the toll of premature deaths from air pollution (already estimated at 7 million per annum globally) is set to rise through the coming decades before falling.
A report to the meeting by Robert O’Keefe, Vice-President of the Health Effects Institute (HEI) on HEI’s newest study in China indicates that if no further action is taken, and as the Chinese population continues to grow and age, the health impact of air pollution – in terms of deaths from cardiovascular and lung diseases - will potentially increase to 1.3 million deaths annually by 2030. However, the study notes, with currently planned and potential additional actions to control air pollution from PM2.5, a key pollutant, levels in China are projected to substantially decline by 2030. Mr O’Keefe said that despite the adverse trend in premature mortality, “if China continues to build on the positive actions it has already taken, 275,000 premature deaths could be avoided”.
Commenting on these findings on the basis of a separate study, Jos Lelieveld, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, said that work by his team indicated that these conclusions held not just for China but for much of Asia. He continued: “Our work suggests that the largest potential for deteriorating air quality is in India, while Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam are also high on the list of countries where premature mortality attributable to air pollution is growing rapidly.”
The two assessments both suggested that there was major potential from cost-effective measures that could be taken now to improve air quality. However, both also urged that while a continuing focus on traffic emissions was essential, other pollution sources, notably residential energy use, industrial emissions and agriculture, should receive more emphasis.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Carlos Dora from the World Health Organization said:
“China and other countries in Asia are now beginning to take vigourous action on air pollution, but these results highlight the scale and urgency of the challenge they face. Recent work by the World Health Organization indicates that in many cities air pollution is still getting worse, and almost as many people today rely upon polluting wood, biomass and coal fuels for cooking as they did a decade ago.
“A global response to the challenge is now being articulated, with the first World Health Assembly resolution on air pollution and health in 2015; a road map for its implementation in 2016; and air pollution featuring in four of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN last year. This opens important opportunities which now need to be carried through to national and local action. By making urban air quality a health and development priority, cities can improve air quality, reduce health costs from air pollution-related diseases and enhance worker’s productivity life expectancy and well-being.”
With air pollution now a global environmental and health crisis, experts from around the world have gathered in Busan, South Korea, to take part in a joint meeting of two of the leading international air quality conferences to address the multiple challenges being faced around the globe and ways forward for countries and cities.
Clean Air Asia’s 9th Better Air Quality Conference (BAQ) and the 17th International Union of Air Pollution Prevention and Environmental Protection Associations’ World Clean Air Congress (WCAC) have brought together nearly 1000 representatives from governments, environmental ministries, the private sector, NGOs, research institutions, academia and civil society, including many of the world's most prominent figures in their fields, at the landmark event themed “Clean Air for Cities: Perspectives and Solutions”, which runs from August 29 to September 2.
The conference is highlighting the challenges air pollution now presents to human health and the environment at the urban, national and international levels, and is exploring the advances in science, technology, policy and practice that are needed to innovatively and collaboratively address those challenges.
With air pollution now recognized as the world’s single greatest environmental health risk, responsible for up to 7 million premature deaths each year globally, the intention is that this special joint meeting will help chart a pathway to cleaner air in Asia and around the world.
The conference agenda reflects the synergy of BAQ’s Asian focus and commitment to urban and national policy and practice, with WCAC’s focus on global policy and inter-regional cooperation, and the scientific foundation for action.
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