Actual order with your choice
Global ranking of risk factors by total number of deaths, 2019
fact05
High systolic blood pressure
10.8
Millions
fact05
Smoking
7.7
Millions
fact05
Air pollution
6.7
Millions
fact05
High fasting plasma glucose
6.6
Millions
fact05
High body mass index
5.0
Millions

Source: Health Effects Institute (2020), State of Global Air 2020. Special Report.17

Table 2: WHO recommended air quality guidelines
Pollutant Averaging Time 2005 AQGs 2021 AQGs
PM2.5 Annual 10 5
24-hour 25 15
PM10 Annual 20 15
24-hour 50 45
Ozone (O3) Peak Season - 60
8-hour 100 100
Nitrogen oxide Annual 40 10
24-hour - 25
Sulphur dioxide 24-hour 20 40
Carbon Monoxide 24-hour - 4

Source: IQAir29

* New averaging time for 2021 | + Peak season - average of daily maximum 8-hour mean ozone concentration during the six consecutive months with the highest six-month running-average of ozone concentration NO2 1-hour average, SO2 10 minute average, and CO2 8-hour, 1-hour, and 15-minute averages unchanged from previous recommendations. Source: World Health Organization

Chart11: Investments in energy infrastructure,
renewables vs conventional, % share, Asia
100%
75%
50%
25%
0%
2015
2016
2017
2018
2019
Renewables
Conventional Power
Source: IJGlobal

Asia in Focus:

Clean Air and
the business
and human
rights agenda

Asia in Focus:

Clean Air and
the business
and human
rights agenda

chapter icon Introduction

On April 3rd 2020, residents of Jalandhar, India, a city in the northern state of Punjab woke to the majestic sight of the glimmering Himalayan peaks against a backdrop of clear blue skies.7 So rare was this phenomenon that Himachal Tourism—the regional government’s official tourism body—posted it as a leading news story of the day. The headline read simply, “Jalandhar residents have a view of snow-capped mountains.”8,9 According to experts, the sighting of these mountains, some 200km from the city, was due to an unexpected shift in the air quality from “hazardous” to “good”. A national lockdown imposed from March 25th 2020 to help control the spread of the covid-19 virus resulted in the immediate suspension of all transport and construction activities, drastically reducing air pollution in urban areas across the country.

99%

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that close to 99%10 of the global population is exposed to unhealthy air.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that close to 99%10 of the global population is exposed to unhealthy air. While air pollution is a challenge in many cities across the world, the problem is much more severe in Asia. Approximately four billion people—92% of the Asia-Pacific region's population—are exposed to levels of air pollution that pose a significant risk to their health.11 South and East Asian locations emerge as the most polluted, with Bangladesh, China, India, and Pakistan sharing 49 of the 50 most polluted cities worldwide and experiencing the worst air quality in the region.12 Key sources of air pollution in Asia include particulate matter emissions from the burning of fossil fuels—for electricity generation and transportation fuel—and agricultural crop burning, among others. Even with the reduction of economic activity due to covid-19 lockdowns, 32% of cities in India, 67% of cities in Pakistan and 80% of cities in Bangladesh experienced ‘unhealthy’ air quality.13 In 2020, air pollution resulted in a loss of 7.4% of South Asia’s GDP and accounted for 13-22% of deaths in the South Asia region.14

4 billion

Approximately four billion people—92% of the Asia-Pacific region's population—are exposed to levels of air pollution that pose a significant risk to their health.11

Worsening air quality has significant public health consequences for current and future generations. Data from the Air Quality Index reveals that four South Asian countries—Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan—account for 60% of the person-years lost globally at current pollution levels and that compliance with WHO air pollution guidelines would increase life expectancy by an average of five years in these countries.15 Air pollution can also have consequences over several generations as exposure to air pollution among women has been identified as a major risk to female reproductive health. A recent study conducted on women of reproductive age concluded that exposure to atmospheric sulphur dioxide leads to a lower antral follicle count (ovarian reserve) among women, which adversely affects female fertility.16 Other risks, such as preterm births, adverse birth outcomes and higher rates of infant mortality have also been linked to high pollution concentration.

60%

Data from the Air Quality Index reveals that four South Asian countries—Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan—account for 60% of the person-years lost globally at current pollution levels and that compliance with WHO air pollution guidelines would increase life expectancy by an average of five years in these countries.

Moving from grey skies to blue: why the noise now?

Air pollution is a long-standing environmental issue. However, over the past decade, mounting scientific evidence has cast a spotlight on the long-term economic and health consequences of prolonged exposure to air pollution. Among the most important features of the science include:

Moving from grey skies to blue
Moving from grey skies to blue
lungs image

The magnitude of the problem: Close to 99% of the global population is exposed to air that does not meet WHO air quality standards. Middle-income countries have experienced an alarming rise in air pollution levels as a result of rapid urbanisation and economic development, most of which rely on the burning of fossil fuels. Consequently, middle-income countries also account for more than 80% of global deaths resulting from air pollution. In 2019, air pollution was the third leading cause of premature mortality worldwide.

pregnant women affecting pollution

The growing evidence of health impacts: Over the past two decades, the body of scientific evidence on the impact of air pollution on human health has grown, making it clear that exposure to ambient air pollution can have long-term adverse health impacts. In 2013, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified outdoor air pollution and particulate matter as carcinogenic.18 Air pollution has since become a leading cause of lung cancer, affecting even the non-smoking population.19 Between 2005 and 2019, the total number of global deaths attributable to air pollution increased by 40%.20

Source: Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network (2021), Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), Global Burden of Disease Study 2019.21

Source: Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network (2021), Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), Global Burden of Disease Study 2019.22

The accessibility of the science

The accessibility of the science: Air pollution is a complex issue that requires scientific methodologies to understand. The technical nature of discussions has, until recently, been confined to scientific circles. However, as the debilitating impacts of air pollution have become more evident, matters have shifted into mainstream media, where the science is simplified.

The link with climate change

The link with climate change: The issues of air pollution and climate change are closely intertwined. The burning of fossil fuels not only releases the greenhouse gases that cause climate change but also the particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide that cause air pollution. According to the WHO, “Improving air quality can enhance climate change mitigation efforts, while reducing emissions will, in turn, improve air quality”.23

What do you think is the lowest risk factor?

Drag and drop the risk factors in the right order

05

High systolic blood pressure

03

Air pollution

04

Smoking

01

High body mass index

02

High fasting plasma glucose

Lowest
Drop here
Drop here
Drop here
Drop here
Drop here
Highest

Source: Health Effects Institute (2020), State of Global Air 2020. Special Report.17

Global ranking of risk factors by total number of deaths, 2019
fact05
High systolic blood pressure
10.8
Millions
fact05
Smoking
7.7
Millions
fact05
Air pollution
6.7
Millions
fact05
High fasting plasma glucose
6.6
Millions
fact05
High body mass index
5.0
Millions

Source: Health Effects Institute (2020), State of Global Air 2020. Special Report.17

With these facts in mind, many Asian governments have responded robustly, and have developed policies to address air pollution in a coordinated manner. Still, it is too early to say that the tide is turning on air pollution in Asia. Will the next decade see a reduction in health and environmental risks linked to air pollution? And will people reap the economic benefits that environmental activists have been claiming will surely flow if air pollution is mitigated?

Though the answers are not definitive, it is clear that coordinated action from all stakeholders will be required to implement meaningful air pollution mitigation measures.

 

transparent

References

X

1 https://www.ccacoalition.org/en/content/air-pollution-measures-asia-and-pacific

2 https://e360.yale.edu/digest/air-pollution-from-fossil-fuels-costs-8-billion-per-day-new-research-finds

3 For the full list of UNGPs, see > https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/documents/publications/guidingprinciplesbusinesshr_en.pdf

4 https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-third-most-polluted-country-delhi-most-polluted-capital-report/articleshow/81537532

5 Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air

6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6923778/#B3

7 https://www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/the-coronavirus-offers-a-radical-new-vision-for-indias-cities-pollution

8 https://twitter.com/hp_tourism/status/1246017228274728960

9 https://www.ndtv.com/cities/jalandhar-sees-dhauladhar-range-for-first-time-in-decades-amid-lockdown-2205943

10 https://www.who.int/news/item/04-04-2022-billions-of-people-still-breathe-unhealthy-air-new-who-data

11 https://www.ccacoalition.org/en/content/air-pollution-measures-asia-and-pacific

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world-air-quality-report-2020-en-pdf
(2020 Report-English - page 4, section on Executive summary) More recent data is available from the same source but was released after the report went into production.

13 US AQI >100 https://www.airnow.gov/aqi/aqi-basics/#:~:text=Think%20of%20the%20AQI%20as,300%20represents%20hazardous%20air%20quality
world-air-quality-report-2020-en-pdf
(2020 Report-English - page 4, section on Executive summary) More recent data is available from the same source but was released after the report went into production.

14 https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-third-most-polluted-country-delhi-most-polluted-capital-report/articleshow/81537532<
world-air-quality-report-2020-en-pdf
(2020 Report-English - page 4, section on Executive summary) More recent data is available from the same source but was released after the report went into production.

15 https://aqli.epic.uchicago.edu/pollution-facts/

16 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33735795/

17 https://www.stateofglobalair.org/

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19 https://www.economist.com/asia/2021/11/06/indias-toxic-air-is-its-most-immediate-environmental-problem

20 https://ourworldindata.org/air-pollution#air-pollution-is-one-of-the-world-s-leading-risk-factors-for-death

21 https://ourworldindata.org/air-pollution#air-pollution-is-one-of-the-world-s-leading-risk-factors-for-death

22 https://ourworldindata.org/outdoor-air-pollution

23 https://www.who.int/news/item/22-09-2021-new-who-global-air-quality-guidelines-aim-to-save-millions-of-lives-from-air-pollution

24 https://www.who.int/news/item/22-09-2021-new-who-global-air-quality-guidelines-aim-to-save-millions-of-lives-from-air-pollution#:~:text=At%20the%20same%20time%2C%20 however,more%20healthy%20years%20of%20life

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29 "Air quality guidelines (AQGs) released by the WHO provide recommendations on air quality levels as well as interim targets for six key air pollutants. These are based on the extensive scientific evidence currently available; the guidelines identify the levels of air quality necessary to protect public health worldwide. The AQGs also serve as a reference for assessing if, and by how much, the exposure of a population exceeds levels at which it might cause health concerns. They cover some of the most monitored pollutants critical for health, for which evidence on health effects from exposure has advanced the most in the past 15 years.” https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/who-global-air-quality-guidelines

30 https://www.iqair.com/blog/air-quality/2021a-WHO-air-quality-guidelines

31 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1352231015303320#appsec1

32 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969720336111

33 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969720336111

34 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6923778/

35 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6923778/#B3

36 https://undocs.org/A/HRC/RES/48/13

37 United Nations, General Assembly, The human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, A/76/L.75 (26 July 2022)

38 https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G20/202/42/PDF/G2020242.pdf?OpenElement

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50 https://www.globalhealthrights.org/henares-and-ors-v-land-transportation-franchising-and-regulatory-board-and-ors/

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56 https://www.channelnewsasia.com/world/explainer-power-impact-climate-change-1339031

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62 Figures are estimates from modelling exercises. Scientific studies that use computer models do not give results with absolute certainty. Instead a range is provided (known as an 'interval'). The ‘confidence range’ is the range that is most likely to contain the true value. A 95% confidence interval means that with 95% probability, reality is somewhere inside the confidence interval, and a 5% chance it is outside the interval (either higher or lower than the range of numbers in the range). The value with the highest probability to be the true value is called the central estimate. It is somewhere inside the confidence interval. The bounds of the confidence interval are called the low and the high estimate.

63 https://www.greenpeace.org/static/planet4-southeastasia-stateless/2020/02/29e450ab-data-driven-media-briefing-110220.pdf

64 These figures are central estimates. See footnote 60 for a definition of central estimates.

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78 https://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/skilled-workers-flee-from-polluted-cities-hampering-economic-growth

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100 Interview insight from Prarthana Borah

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104 https://www.eria.org/ERIA-DP-2015-82.pdf

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106 https://theicct.org/sites/default/files/publications/Indonesia-sootfree-CBA-02182020.pdf

107 https://www.science.org/content/article/indonesias-fires-are-bad-new-measures-prevented-them-becoming-worse

108 https://www.climate-laws.org/geographies/indonesia/policies/presidential-regulation-5-2006-concerning-national-energy-policy

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110 https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/air-pollution-choking-bangkok-solution-reach

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114 https://www.who.int/vietnam/news/detail/12-12-2019-who-commends-can-tho-s-commitment-to-tackle-air-pollution#:~:text=HANOI%2C%2012%20December%202019%20%E2%80%93%20The,to%20safe%20levels%20by%202030

116 https://theicct.org/sites/default/files/publications/India%20BS%20VI%20Policy%20Update%20vF.pdf

117 https://www.pmuy.gov.in/about

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121 https://www.npr.org/2019/07/30/727688757/mongolias-capital-banned-coal-to-fix-its-pollution-problem-will-it-work

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133 https://energyandcleanair.org/china-14th-five-year-plan-carbon-neutrality/

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144 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09644016.2017.1338213?journalCode=fenp20

145 https://smartcities.gov.in/climatesmart_cities

146 https://www.niua.org/csc/assets/pdf/key-documents/phase-2/CSCAF-2.0-Brochure_24042020.pdf

147 For the full list of UNGPs, see > https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/documents/publications/guidingprinciplesbusinesshr_en.pdf

148 https://oxfordre.com/environmentalscience/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199389414.001.0001/acrefore-9780199389414-e-718

149 https://www.thai-german-cooperation.info/en_US/vehicle-pollution-fund-in-the-philippines-tackling-the-final-steps-towards-utilisation/

150 Garton, Kelly, Thow, Anne Marie & Swinburn, Boyd. (2020). International Trade and Investment Agreements as Barriers to Food Environment Regulation for Public Health Nutrition: A Realist Review. Journal of Health Policy and Management.

151 For the full list of UNGPs, see > https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/documents/publications/guidingprinciplesbusinesshr_en.pdf

152 https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/Considerations%20regarding%20vulnerable.pdf

153 https://www.sei.org/featured/5-ways-reducing-pollution-can-improve-equality-for-women/

154 https://medium.com/pakistan-air-quality-initiative/introducing-the-pakistan-air-quality-initiative-%D9%BE%D8%A7%DA%A9%DB%8C-d1f2f9ed7d11

155 Not exhaustive