WHO report calls for more action on urban air quality

Sept. 8, 2022

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a record 6,700 cities and communities in 117 countries are now monitoring air quality. However, over 99% of people worldwide are exposed to harmful levels of fine particulate matter.

The WHO estimated that in 2019 about 7 million premature deaths were attributed annually to the effects of ambient and household air pollution.

WHO is custodial agency for three air pollution-related Sustainable Development Goals, among them SDG 11.6.2, ‘Air quality in urban areas.’ The Organization aims to leverage the health argument for actions on air pollution within the context of cities and human settlements.

An integral part of SDG 11.6.2 reporting at the national level is the public availability of ground level air pollution data. As the collection and auditing of this data is an inherent part of a country’s Air Quality Management System (AQMS), in developing and implementing an AQMS, countries are also enhancing their ability to meet the SDG 11.6.2 reporting criteria.

Released on International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, the WHO online repository contains over 100 UN tools and guidance documents which can be used to develop and implement air quality management strategies.

A complementary report, Air Quality in Cities. SDG 11.6.2 Working Group Report, which will be released in the coming weeks will illustrate the connection between air quality management and specific areas such as policy-making, health impact assessment, valuation of health cost and training programs, among others.

This report is an output of discussions with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the United Nations Environment Program, the World Meteorological Organization, and the World Bank, offers general AQM tools such as a screening tool, which is a short, qualitative assessment to help countries evaluate the baseline of their AQMS and a more comprehensive survey to better understand gaps and AQMS areas that require more focus and resources. 

The report also suggests methods for air quality measurement and offers countries and cities models for identifying the sources of air pollution and predicting changes in air quality. Health impact assessments are also offered for decision-makers to assess the effects of air pollution policies on the population and prioritize policy actions with benefits for health, the environment and sustainable economic development.

Economic impacts are also highlighted in the report. According to the World Bank, the global health cost of mortality and morbidity attributed to air pollution was $ 8.1 trillion in 2019. The report offers critical tools for decision makers to quantify the cost of health damages from air pollution in order to guide policymaking.

WHO’s Air Quality Guidelines

A key action for countries is developing standards for air quality. While over 60% of countries have air quality standards, most of these national air quality standards are not aligned with the WHO Air Quality Guideline values. Standards are often not as stringent for different pollutants at varying average times. To attain clean air in cities, existing resources should be aligned to help countries develop and implement air quality management systems and improve health.

WHO release