International Diplomat Magazine

Air pollution claims 7 million lives a year: UN rights expert


(Geneva) – A UN human rights expert has said that air pollution can kill up to seven million people a year.

Shifting to renewable energy could save up to 150 million lives by the end of the century amid concerns that six billion people regularly inhale air “so polluted that it puts their life, health and well-being at risk”, David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said on Monday.

At the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Dr. Boyd insisted that air pollution is a “silent, sometimes invisible, prolific killer” which affected women and girls more than men.

This is despite 155 States legally recognising the right to a healthy environment, Dr. Boyd explained. “Air pollutants are everywhere, largely caused by burning fossil fuels for electricity, transportation and heating, as well as from industrial activities, poor waste management and agricultural practices,” he said.

Air pollution is present both inside homes and outside and is responsible for the premature death of seven million people each year, including 600,000 children, according to the Special Rapporteur’s report.

“Every hour, 800 people are dying, many after years of suffering, from cancer, respiratory illnesses or heart disease directly caused by breathing polluted air,” he said, before highlighting that these deaths were preventable.

In his report, Boyd outlined steps member states are obligated to take “to fulfil their human rights obligations by reducing air pollution to acceptable levels.”

Among the Special Rapporteur’s key recommendations are monitoring air quality, identifying the primary sources of air pollution, educating and engaging the public about air pollution, and enacting legislation, regulations and standards that can be enforced to limit pollution.

For the UAE, air quality is one of the critical issues in the UAE National Vision 2021 agenda, which aims to raise air quality from its current level to 90 percent by 2021.

The UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, MOCCAE, has employed cutting-edge technologies and artificial intelligence methods to ensure that air quality is monitored vigilantly via its ‘Air Quality Programme’.

According to the ministry, the UAE has 41 monitoring stations that provide extensive, accurate coverage of air quality via its ‘Air Quality Index’. The index can provide forecasts up to three days in advance on the quality of air within the country.

MOCCAE is also working with public and private sector partners to further develop and enhance standards for air pollution and compliance control, the transition to a green economy, and increase the use of clean energy in different sectors, while also improving the sustainability of the transport sector.

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