24 May 2016 – Noting that from 2008 to 2013, air pollution levels in urban areas increased by eight per cent, a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) spotlights the need to support introduction of more renewable energies and clean cook stoves, some of the vital actions aimed at combating this public health emergency.
Air pollution kills seven million people each year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with more than 80 per cent of people living in urban areas exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO limits.
Actions on Air Quality, released today at the second United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2) under way in Nairobi, Kenya, found that there is a growing momentum for change, such as improved access to cleaner cooking fuels and stoves, renewables, fuel sulphur content and public transport.
However, action in other areas is less impressive and will not halt the increase in air pollution that is threatening to claim many more lives, the report warned.
“The current global response to pervasive poor air quality is inadequate,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “Despite this lack of a holistic response, numerous countries and regions are coming up with effective – and cost-effective – measures to improve air quality. The Sustainable Development Goals provide an opportunity to replicate those best practices globally, and bring about cleaner air, and social and economic benefits worldwide.”
While policies and standards on clean fuels and vehicles could reduce emissions by 90 per cent, only 29 per cent of countries worldwide have adopted ‘Euro 4’ vehicles emissions standards or above. Meanwhile, less than 20 per cent of countries regulate open waste burning, which is a leading cause of air pollution.
On the positive side, 97 countries have increased the percentage of households that have access to cleaner burning fuels to more than 85 per cent – a key move to tackle indoor air pollution, which claims over half of the seven million lives.
At least 82 countries out of 193 analysed have incentives that promote investment in renewable energy production, cleaner production, energy efficiency and/or pollution control equipment. Last year, for the first time, renewables accounted for a majority of the new electricity-generating capacity added around the world, at an investment of $286 billion, according to research by UNEP, Bloomberg and the Frankfurt School.
A Review of Air Pollution Control in Beijing: 1998-2013, which was also released today, analyzed measures implemented since Beijing began launching air pollution control programmes, which saw a steady downward trend in the concentrations of many harmful pollutants.
“Even though the air pollution control programmes in Beijing have made substantial progress, the environment quality is far from satisfactory,” said Chen Tian, Director General of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau. “We will continue to explore approaches that could work effectively for improving the environment in this region.”