As the globe marks the World Environment Day, an estimated nine out of ten people worldwide are exposed to air pollutants that exceed World Health Organization air quality guidelines.
Under this year’s theme ‘air pollution’, the event is hosted in the city of Hangzhou, China and celebrated whole around the world.
In a statement, United Nation (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said air pollution is lowering life expectancy and damaging economies across the planet.
“Deaths and illnesses from air pollution are caused by tiny particles that penetrate our defenses every time we fill our lungs,” the UN Secretary General said.
Mr Guterres added that these particles come from many sources including the burning of fossil fuels for power and transport; the chemicals and mining industries; the open burning of waste; the burning of forests and fields; and the use of dirty indoor cooking and heating fuels, which he said are major problems facing the developing world.
“This polluted air kills some 7 million people each year, causes long term health problems, such as asthma, and reduces children’s cognitive development,” he added.
According to the World Bank, air pollution costs societies more than $5 trillion every year.
“Many air pollutants also cause global warming. Black carbon is one such example. Produced by diesel engines, burning trash and dirty cook stoves, it is extremely harmful when inhaled,” Mr Guterres noted.
He said reducing emissions of such pollutants will not only improve public health, but also alleviate global warming by up to 0.5 degrees Celsius, over the next few decades.
“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,” he said.
Furthermore, he said, “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.”
Mr Guterres stated there is no reason why the international community cannot act since precedent exists in the Montreal Protocol.
“Scientists identified a grave threat to public and planetary health, and governments and businesses acted to successfully protect the ozone layer,” noted Mr Guterres.
Today, Mr Guterres said, our world faces an equally urgent crisis and it was 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,” he added.
He continued, “On World Environment Day, I ask each of us to act so we can breathe more easily. From pressuring politicians and businesses to changing our own habits, we can reduce pollution and beat climate change.”