Global health risks from short-lived climate pollutants

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a new report that highlights the urgent need to reduce emissions of black carbon, ozone and methane, which all contribute to more than 7 million premature deaths annually linked to outdoor and indoor air pollution.

The report “Reducing global health risks through mitigation of short-lived climate pollutants” shows that interventions to cut these pollutants can reduce disease and death and contribute to food security, improve diets and increase physical activity.

A previous report – the 2011 assessment by the UN Environment Programme and World Meteorological Organization – estimated that a global deployment of 16 reduction measures for short-lived climate pollutants would prevent an average of 2.4 million premature deaths annually by 2030.

The new estimates could raise that figure to 3.5 million lives saved annually by 2030, and between 3 to 5 million lives per year by 2050. These new projections take into account WHO’s latest data on deaths linked to air pollution as well as some new abatement measures.

WHO rated more than twenty available and affordable measures to see which have the greatest potential to improve health, reduce short-lived climate pollutant emissions and prevent climate change.

Four measures are rated medium to high in all three categories:   
• Reducing vehicle emissions by implementing stricter emissions and efficiency standards could reduce black carbon and other co-pollutants from fossil fuels, improve air quality and reduce the disease burden attributable to outdoor air pollution.
• Policies and investments that prioritize dedicated rapid transit, such as buses and trains, and foster safe pedestrian and cycle networks, can promote multiple benefits, including: safer active travel and reduced health risks from air and noise pollution, physical inactivity, and road traffic injuries.
• Providing cleaner and more efficient stove and fuel alternatives to the approximately 2.8 billion low-income households worldwide dependent on primarily wood, dung and other solid fuels for heating and cooking, could reduce air-pollution-related diseases and reduce the health risks and time invested in fuel-gathering.
• Encouraging high and middle-income populations to increase their consumption of nutritious plant-based foods could reduce heart disease and some cancers, and slow methane emissions associated with some animal-sourced foods.

“Every day, these pollutants threaten the health of men, women and children,” said Dr Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General at WHO. “For the first time, this report recommends actions that countries, health and environment ministries, and cities can take right now to reduce emissions, protect health and avoid illness and premature deaths, which often take the greatest toll on the most vulnerable.”
Evidence from previous WHO studies on healthy transport already suggests that shifts to mass transport and the introduction of safe walking and cycling networks are relatively inexpensive when compared with the loss of life and costs of treating people for air-pollution-related illnesses, traffic injuries and diseases related to physical inactivity.

Source: WHO news release, 22 October 2015
The WHO report:

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