Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Increase in air pollution threatens more lives, but there is hope

Achim Steiner at the UNEA conference
By Isaiah Esipisu

NAIROBI, Kenya (PAMACC News) – About three billion people who depend on solid fuels and open fires for cooking and heating around the world are at risk of contracting cardiovascular diseases, despite efforts on the ground to reverse the trend, says a new report by UNEP  titled Actions on Air Quality.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), global urban air pollution levels increased by 8 percent between 2008 and 2013, putting affected people to a risk of early death due to diseases, such as strokes and heart disease, as well as cancer and respiratory diseases.  

According to the report, more than 80 per cent of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO limits, threatening lives, productivity and economies.

“Around half of the estimated 7 to 8 million premature deaths annually are caused by indoor air pollution, the main source being cooking and heating with solid fuels - wood and other biomass based fuels - over open fires,” said a statement from UNEP.

And now, according to the experts, the two actions that can dramatically lower biomass use and improve indoor air quality are the use of efficient cook/heating stoves and cleaner burning fuels.

However, the found improvements in areas such as access to cleaner cooking fuels and stoves, renewables, fuel sulphur content and public transport – pointing to a growing momentum for change.

“We are indeed making progress on air pollution, but the fact remains that many people are still breathing air outside of World Health Organization standards. The health, social and economic costs are massive and rising. UNEP’s study on ten areas for policy intervention provides a roadmap for countries to follow as they look to reduce air pollution, and we will support them every step of the way,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Secretary.

For example, 97 countries have increased the percentage of households that have access to cleaner burning fuels to more than 85 percent – a key move to tackle indoor air pollution, which claims over half of the seven million lives.

“A healthy environment is essential to healthy people and our aspirations for a better world under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” said Steiner.

At least 82 countries out of 194 analyzed have incentives that promote investment in renewable energy production, cleaner production, energy efficiency and/or pollution control equipment. Last year, for the first time, renewables accounted for a majority of the new electricity-generating capacity added around the world, at an investment of $286 billion, according to research by UNEP, Bloomberg and the Frankfurt School.

However, action in other areas is less impressive. Policies and standards on clean fuels and vehicles could reduce emissions by 90 per cent, but only 29 per cent of countries worldwide have adopted Euro 4 emissions standards or above. Meanwhile, less than 20 per cent of countries regulate open waste burning, which is a leading cause of air pollution.

A second report released today, which looks at attempts to control Beijing’s air pollution over a 15-year period, also finds steady improvements are being made.  A Review of Air Pollution Control in Beijing: 1998-2013 analyzed measures implemented since Beijing began launching air pollution control programmes, which saw a steady downward trend in the concentrations of many harmful pollutants.

In 2014, the international community, at the first UNEA, asked UNEP to support global efforts to improve air quality. UNEP has launched several programmes, including an initiative to develop a low-cost sensor that can be used across the developing world to track and address pollution hotspots.

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