World Environment Day is on June 5th and this year the focus in on the theme of “air pollution”. This day is a call to
action to combat one of the greatest environmental challenges of our
time. World Environment Day invites us all to consider
how we can make changes in our daily lives to reduce air pollution and benefit people’s health. This includes reducing climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions. This year’s host is China, a country that has demonstrated tremendous leadership in tackling air pollution domestically and its commitment to improving air quality can serve as an inspiration to countries around the world.
Together we can #BeatAirPollution
Nine out of ten people worldwide breathe polluted air. This a global public health emergency that demands our action.
Air pollution harms our health and our common home. This #WorldEnvironmentDay, @UNEnvironment is rallying the global community to take action to #BeatAirPollution. People around the world have organized events to take action and celebrate this day. Click here to see registered events. Be inspired and get involved in solutions!
Nobody is safe from air pollution. How much pollution we breathe in is dependent on many factors, such as access to clean energy for cooking and heating, the time of day and the weather. Rush hour is an obvious source of local pollution, but air pollution can travel long distances, sometimes across continents on international weather patterns.
Sources of air pollution
Nobody is safe from this pollution, which comes from five main human sources. These sources spew out a range of substances including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen oxide, ground-level ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, hydrocarbons, and lead–all of which are harmful to human health.
The main source of household air pollution is the indoor burning of fossil fuels, wood and other biomass-based fuels to cook, heat and light homes. Around 3.8 million premature deaths are caused by indoor air pollution each year, the vast majority of them in the developing world.
Out of 193 countries, 97 countries have increased the percentage of households that have access to cleaner burning fuels to over 85 percent. However, 3 billion people continue to use solid fuels and open fires for cooking, heating, and lighting. The adoption of cleaner, more modern stoves and fuels can reduce the risks of illness and save lives.
In many countries, power generation is a leading source of air pollution. Coal-burning power plants are a major contributor, while diesel generators are a growing concern in off-grid areas. Industrial processes and solvent use, in the chemical and mining industries, also pollute the air.
Policies and programmes aimed at increasing energy efficiency and production from renewable sources have a direct impact on a country’s air quality. At the moment, 82 countries out of 193 have incentives that promote investment in renewable energy production, cleaner production, energy efficiency and pollution control.
The global transport sector accounts for almost one-quarter of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and this proportion is rising. Air pollution emissions from transport have been linked to nearly 400,000 premature deaths. Almost half of all deaths by air pollution from transport are caused by diesel emissions, while those living closest to major traffic arteries are up to 12 percent more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
Reducing vehicle emissions is an important intervention to improve air quality, especially in urban areas. Policies and standards that require the use of cleaner fuels and advanced vehicle emissions standards can reduce vehicle emissions by 90 percent or more.
The major sources of air pollution from agriculture include livestock, which produces methane and ammonia, rice paddies, which produce methane, and the burning of agricultural waste. Methane emissions contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, which causes asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Methane is also a more potent global warming gas than carbon dioxide – its impact is 34 times greater over a 100-year period. Around 24 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted worldwide come agriculture, forestry and other land-use.
There are many ways to reduce air pollution from agriculture. People can move to a plant-based diet and/or reduce food waste, while farmers can reduce methane from livestock by optimizing feed digestibility and improving grazing and grassland management.
Open waste burning and organic waste in landfills release harmful dioxins, furans, methane, and fine particulate matter like black carbon into the atmosphere. Globally, an estimated 40 percent of waste is openly burned. The problem is most severe in urbanizing regions and developing countries. Open burning of agricultural and municipal waste is practiced in 166 out of 193 countries.
Improving the collection, separation, and disposal of solid waste reduces the amount of waste that is burned or landfilled. Separating organic waste and turning it into compost or bioenergy improves soil fertility and provides an alternative energy source. Reducing the estimated one-third of all food that is lost or wasted can also improve air quality.
Not all air pollution comes from human activity. Volcanic eruptions, dust storms and other natural processes also cause problems. Sand and dust storms are particularly concerning. Fine particles of dust can travel thousands of miles on the back of these storms, which may also carry pathogens and harmful substances, causing acute and chronic respiratory problems.
One of the actions for World Environment Day is the Mask Challenge. Face masks are a great symbol to show leaders we want to breathe clean air.People are taking the pledge and challenge others to take action. They are taking picture and videos of themselves wearing a mask and posting it on social media. They are tagging people, organizations and companies and challenging them to act on air pollution.
What you can do
- Make a difference this year.
- Plant trees with your friends
- Commute without polluting
- Clean the environment you love.
- Use public transport or car sharing, cycle or walk
- Switch to a hybrid or electric vehicle and request electric taxis
- Turn off the car engine when stationary
- Reduce your consumption of meat and dairy to help cut methane emissions
- Compost organic food items and recycle non-organic trash
- Switch to high-efficiency home heating systems and equipment
- Save energy: turn off lights and electronics when not in use
- Choose non-toxic paints and furnishings