Outdoor air pollution is ranked as one of the ten most common causes of death around the world today. Each year, more than four million people die prematurely as a result of poor air quality. The steps that international organisations can take to speed up efforts to improve air quality and limit the global effects on health was the starting point for a three-day conference in Gothenburg.
The conference adopted a series of recommendations on how international air quality measures should be implemented in the coming years. The recommendations include the need to exert more pressure in sectors where such measures are currently lagging behind, such as agriculture, international shipping and household solid fuel burning, and to clarify how various international organisations can collaborate more effectively. These recommendations will now be passed on to the relevant organisations and stakeholders.
– Because each recommendation has a clear addressee, they get a weight that they would not otherwise have. We have successfully used the same method with clear addressees at previous conferences, said one of the organisers, Peringe Grennfelt, from IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.
The conference was opened by Karolina Skog, Swedish Minister for the Environment, and brought together almost 200 experts from national and international organisations, including UN agencies such as WHO, WMO, UNEP, the EU and the UN Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP). The conference was organised by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute and supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers.
– We are facing major challenges that require the collaboration of all international organisations that have air pollution on their agenda, said Anna Engleryd, Chair of CLRTAP and one of the initiators of the conference.
Several of the international organisations were recently given a stronger mandate to ramp up global efforts to tackle air pollution, not least the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which decided at its general assembly last autumn that air pollution should be given high priority. The World Health Organization took a similar decision a couple of years ago.
In response to the high death rates due to pollution, many cities and urban areas have taken key initiatives and reversed the negative trend. One of the conference participants, Dr Cristian Tolvett, reported on successful air quality measures implemented in Santiago de Chile, which has been one of the most polluted cities in the world for many years. Pollution levels have been more than halved within a few years and harmful particulate levels (PM2.5) have been cut to one third. Successful initiatives like this can serve as inspiration for other cities.
Many cities that currently have serious air quality problems unfortunately take a far too narrow view of pollution, and fail to take account of the fact that a significant share of urban air pollution often arises from sources outside cities, such as industry and agriculture.
Air pollution cannot be seen in isolation. Measures that simply tackle poor air quality are often inadequate to achieve the set targets and can also lead to unnecessarily high costs. We need instead to see the problem in a wider context. Coordinating climate measures with air protection measures is an urgent priority, and these measures must be linked to UN sustainability goals. Several speakers also pointed out that the most polluted air is often found in areas that are socially and economically vulnerable.