World Health Assembly Passes Landmark Resolution on Air Pollution and Health

by Sandra Cavalieri - 26 May, 2015
Improving air quality for better public health

In a pivotal decision the 68th World Health Assembly passed a resolution that marks the most high level health action on air pollution to date. The resolution recognized air pollution as one of the leading avoidable causes of disease and death globally with 4.3 million deaths occurring each year from exposure to household (indoor) air pollution and 3.7 million deaths each year attributed to ambient (outdoor) air pollution, at a high cost to societies.

"This is a major landmark," said Dr Maria Neira, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. "Member States have now pledged to tackle in a concerted way the largest single environmental health risk that we face today."

Dr Carlos Dora, Coordinator of the WHO’s air quality, public policies and health work, said the resolution was a “strong call to the health sector to play a key role and help tackle the sources of air pollution, a major cause of heart disease, strokes and cancer”.

“Cities can reduce both air pollution and short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon and ozone through a range of measures that benefit health very immediately and climate in the near term,” Dr Dora said. “These include not only improved pollution-control technologies for diesel vehicles and fuels, but also urban planning strategies that privilege sustainable transport, clean energy, energy-efficient buildings and homes, and public  green areas which filter air pollutants and provide spaces for physical activity, making cities both healthier and more live-able.  These strategies should be a key focus for the health sector to act and help tackling air pollution, climate change, ill health and development.”

The resolution identifies 13 measures member states should strive to implement, including actions such as: enabling health authorities to raise awareness on the dangers of air pollution, developing guidelines to limit exposure; and working with relevant private and public sector actors on sustainable solutions.  It calls for monitoring and research of air pollution morbidity and mortality rates and strengthening international cooperation to address health impacts of air pollution, including through facilitating transfer of expertise, technologies and scientific data in the field of air pollution, as well as exchanging of good practices.

This is a major landmark, Member States have now pledged to tackle in a concerted way the largest single environmental health risk that we face today. Dr Maria Neira, Director for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at WHO

The WHO is tasked (among other things) to significantly strengthen its capacity in the field of air pollution and health in order to: provide member states with support and guidance to implement WHO air quality standards; guide and influence research strategies in the field of air pollution and health; and to exercise global health leadership that maximizes synergies and avoids duplication. The resolution also reaffirmed WHO’s commitment to actions on climate-related health issues, including through the implementation of a previous WHA Resolution on Climate Change and Health.

In voting through the resolution many member countries stressed the importance of recognizing the intersection between air pollution, health, and climate change. This is reflected in the text of the resolution, which states: “promoting air quality is a priority to protect health and provide co-benefits for the climate, ecosystem services, biodiversity, and food security”.

The resolution also draws an implicit link between actions to reduce air pollution and actions to mitigate climate change, acknowledging that despite the “complexity” of certain issues, “meaningful opportunities” can exist for obtaining health and climate co-benefits.


Helena Molin Valdes, Head of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, congratulated the World Health Assembly for passing a strong resolution saying work to reduce air pollution will have multiple benefits across sectors including health, development and climate change.

“The health sector is now on the front line of two increasingly connected issues: protecting human health and the earth’s climate,” Ms Molin Valdes said. “Healthcare professionals bring an incredible amount of knowledge, practical strategies, and awareness raising experience to this issue and we will all benefit from their involvement. We commend the World Health Assembly for passing this resolution and look forward to working with the WHO and partners on steps to reduce harmful air pollution as rapidly as possible”.

Marit Viktoria Pettersen, Senior Advisor with Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs – a country which was one of the leading co-sponsors of the resolution – said the resolution could have a positive impact sooner rather than later as “the necessary action to be taken to prevent the deaths is known, and when implemented, these measures will have almost immediate effect”.

“Norway looks forward to working with all member states in tackling air pollution, including through the Climate and Clean Air Coalition,” Ms Pettersen said. “By adopting this resolution, the Member States of the WHO will decide to redouble their efforts to prevent health impacts of air pollution, through a multi-sectoral national response, and through regional and international cooperation.”

The CCAC and WHO have begun a global campaign called ‘Breathe Life’ that aims to reduce short-lived climate pollutants that are a significant component of air pollution and harm both health and the climate. The campaign was kicked off with an art exhibition at the World Meteorological Organization that took place on the fringes of the 68th World Health Assembly.

For more about the resolution and WHO’s work on Air Pollution, Climate and Health, visit