Though urban air pollution continues to rise, people’s awareness is increasing and many more cities have begun to monitor their air quality across the globe, which is a positive sign as global respiratory and cardiovascular-related illnesses are bound to decrease with the improvement in the air quality.
It is yet another forward move by around half the cities in high-income countries and about one-third in low- and middle-income countries, which have been successful at reducing their air pollution levels by more than five percent in five years.
Reducing industrial smokestack emissions, increasing use of renewable power sources, like solar and wind, and prioritizing rapid transit, walking and cycling networks in cities are the current global strategies to check air pollution.
WHO’s Air quality guidelines offer global guidance on thresholds and limits for key air pollutants that pose health risks. The Guidelines indicate that by reducing particulate matter (PM10) pollution from 70 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m), air pollution-related deaths could be reduced by roughly 15%.
Most people agree that to curb global warming, a variety of measures need to be taken. On a personal level, driving and flying less, recycling, and conservation reduces a person’s “carbon footprint”—the amount of carbon dioxide a person is responsible for putting into the atmosphere.
On a larger scale, governments are taking measures to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The Paris Agreement, a voluntary agreement among 118 nations ratified on November 4, 2016, is one effort being enacted on a global scale to combat climate change. As a part of the agreement, each country agreed to take measures to combat climate change, with the ultimate goal of keeping the post-industrial global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius. Another method is to put taxes on carbon emissions or higher taxes on gasoline, so that individuals and companies will have greater incentives to conserve energy and pollute less.
How to reduce air pollution
Air pollution is the world’s deadliest environmental problem. Statistics reveal that it kills seven million people each year, or one in eight deaths globally. Actually, 4.3 million of these deaths are due to 2.8 billion people in the developing world who cook and keep warm inside their homes, by burning dung, firewood and coal – filling their living spaces with smoke and pollutants. Indoor air pollution from cooking and heating with open fires is equivalent to smoking two packets of cigarettes a day.
How do we best address this problem?
Providing 50% of these 2.8 billion people with improved cooking stoves – which dispels smoke outside through chimneys and vents, is one effective solution. The stoves are cheap and provide numerous benefits in terms of time, fuel and importantly health. It will save almost half a million lives each year, and avoid 2.5 billion disease days.
However, giving people improved cookstove is not a panacea for air pollution, even if everyone has one. Why? Because improved cook-stoves, still pollute inside (but less) and at the same time worsen the situation outside by blowing smoke into the community.
Instead, we should aim to eventually have everyone use smoke free sources such as LPG stoves or electricity.
For outdoor air pollution, the problem is even more difficult. Globally, reaching the WHO’s targets for air pollution, through low-sulphur diesel and car filters is too expensive relative to the benefit.
Recently published research found that despite growing air pollution levels in many places, in the vast majority of cities around the world, it’s still more beneficial to bike, walk and enjoy the outdoors than to remain clustered inside, regardless of the pollution in the air.