Noting that fossil fuels are responsible for most of the harmful emissions that are linked to acute and chronic sickness, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for tangible steps to curb their use. The agency’s data indicates that 4.2 million people die from exposure to outdoor air pollution, in addition to the 3.8 million whose deaths are linked to household smoke produced by dirty stoves and fuels.
The new research data prompted the WHO to highlight the importance of tackling fossil fuels and taking concrete steps to reduce air pollution levels. According to the UN health agency, new measures must put pressure on energy transformation.
The new air quality database is the most extensive yet in its coverage of air pollution exposure on the ground, WHO says. Some 2,000 more cities/human settlements now record ground monitoring data for particulate matter, PM10 and/or PM2.5, than in the last update. This marks an almost six-fold rise in reporting since the database launched in 2011.
Particulate matter, especially PM2.5, is able to penetrate deep into the lungs and into the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular, cerebrovascular (stroke) and respiratory disorders.
At the same time, nitrogen dioxide is associated with respiratory diseases, especially asthma. It leads to respiratory symptoms (such as coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing), hospitalizations, and visits to the emergency room.
“High fossil fuel prices, energy security and the urgency to address the two health challenges of air pollution and climate change underscore the urgent need for rapid development towards a world that is less dependent on fossil fuels,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO.
This data is from the updated WHO Air Quality 2022 Knowledge Base, released ahead of World Health Day, which this year will be held under the slogan “Our Planet, Our Health”. This database was created to monitor the state of the world’s air and is used to track progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
The UN agency also urged more governments to take note that it has made significant revisions to its air quality indicators, including for particulate matter – known as PM2.5 – that can enter the bloodstream, along with nitrogen dioxide (NO2), another common urban pollutant and precursor of particulate matter and ozone.
“Air pollution kills 7 million people every year – their deaths, as well as countless other diseases, could be prevented,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director of the WHO Department of Climate Change, Health and the Environment.