WHO slashes limits on air pollution from fossil fuels

New Delhi in India is engulfed in heavy smog India, November 2020. (Credit: Keystone/EPA/RAJAT GUPTA

The World Health Organization has cut its guideline limits for air pollution in an aim to reduce deaths linked to fossil fuel emissions and encourage movement towards clean energy.

In new guidelines issued to its 194 member states on Wednesday, WHO slashed the recommended maximum levels for several pollutants found in fossil fuels that are linked to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.

The new guidelines are the first air quality guidelines released by the body since 2005. Since that time, “a substantial new body of evidence has accumulated, further demonstrating the degree to which air pollution affects all parts of the body from the brain to a growing baby in a mother’s womb at even lower concentrations than previously observed,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Wednesday.

The WHO chief urged governments to cut their emissions and move to green energy to halt climate change as well as to improve health. He noted that the guidelines come at an “important time” with just one month to go until the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow beginning 31 October.

Long-term exposure to air pollution can cause a range of diseases including heart disease, lung cancer and stroke, resulting in an estimated 7 million premature deaths every year, according to the WHO.

Read also: Global treaty on air quality needed, says UNEP

People living in low- and middle-income countries are hardest hit by poor air quality due to urbanisation and a heavy reliance on burning fossil fuels.

The WHO halved the recommended limits for average annual PM2.5 levels from 10 micrograms per cubic meter to 5. It also lowered the recommended limit for PM10 from 20 micrograms to 15. PM2.5 and PM10 are different sizes of particulate matter, measured in micrometres.

“Almost 80 per cent of deaths related to PM2.5 could be avoided in the world if the current air pollution levels were reduced to those proposed in the updated guideline,” said the report.

Read the full story on Reuters.