Climate Action

Air pollution kills 7 million people a year, says UN on World Environment Day 2019

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, has declared air pollution a critical culprit of lowering life expectancy and damaging global economies on World Environment Day 2019, held by UN Environment.

  • 05 June 2019
  • Poppy Bootman

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, has declared air pollution a critical culprit of lowering life expectancy and damaging global economies on World Environment Day 2019, held by UN Environment.

The result of harmful substances entering the atmosphere, air pollution is predominantly caused by anthropogenic sources such as landfills, power stations, vehicles and fuel combustion. António Guterres’ statement released for World Environment Day announced that 90% of people are exposed to levels of air pollution exceeding World Health Organisation-safe levels, killing 7 million people a year.

The Secretary-General urged governments and businesses to face the climate crisis: “It is time to act decisively. My message to governments is clear: tax pollution; end fossil fuel subsidies; and stop building new coal plants. We need a green economy not a grey economy”.

Guterres specified that air pollution costs $5 trillion a year to societies, as declared by the World Bank. He insisted that “tackling air pollution therefore presents a double opportunity, as there are many successful initiatives that both clear the air and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as phasing out coal-fired power plants and promoting less polluting industry, transport and domestic fuels.”

“With investments in renewable energy sources outstripping those in fossil fuels every year, the rise of clean energy is helping globally. Cleaner transport is also growing around the world”.

World Environment Day 2019 has seen commitments made by 9 governments to reduce air pollution. Governments within Colombia, Nepal, Indonesia, Moldova, Monaco, Montevideo and Mexico have joined BreatheLife, a campaign to “bring air quality to safe levels by 2030 and collaborate on the clean air solutions”. This has brought the number of cities, regions and countries in the BreatheLife campaign to 63, involving 271.4 million citizens in the movement.

BreatheLife is a joint initiative launched in 2016 by the World Health Organisation, United Nations Environment, World Bank and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition. The campaign targets the impacts of air pollution, combining expertise and public health to implement solutions backing the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Each government has made their individual commitments to tackle air pollution. A few include Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, pledging to improve waste management systems, Indonesia’s Bogor City setting a clean air action plan to reduce emission sources and advance low-carbon developments, and Colombia’s capital Bogota enacting a collaborative framework to improve air quality.

World Environment Day 2019 has marked global acknowledgement of the deadly costs of air pollution and the development of new strategies to improve air qualities, economies and public health.

Read the full BreatheLife press release here.

Read the UN Secretary-General’s full statement here.

Interested in learning more about the transition to zero carbon cities? Join us in London for the Climate Innovation Forum (CIF) 2019, in collaboration with London Climate Action Week, for the latest insights on zero carbon energy, transport, waste and buildings.