News 2016-06-30

UN report on air quality shows both progress and challenges

Coordinated action under UNECE Air Convention during the last 30 years has significantly improved air quality in North America and Europe – but more efforts are needed. Despite significant improvements, air pollution continues to be a major threat to the environment and human health. Within the EU air pollution is causing 400,000 premature deaths each year – ten times more than deaths from traffic accidents.  

Recently the report Towards Cleaner Air Scientific Assessment Report 2016 was launched, containing an assessment that was developed by the UN Convention on Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP).

The report shows that the work that has been done on European air quality in many ways has been successful. The greatest success has been achieved in terms of sulphur dioxide emissions, which in many countries have decreased by 90 percent or more. The concentration of small particles, PM2.5, has also reduced, albeit at a much slower pace. The numbers of days that exceed the WHO guidelines for ozone levels are now 20 percent lower than in 1990.

But despite the advancements, air pollution continues to be a large problem for the environment, the climate and the human health. Small particles can through inhaled air enter the human system and can then lead to health effects such as cardiovascular and respiratory disorders.

IVL's former research director Peringe Grennfelt is one of the main authors of the report. He believes that a broader international cooperation over the Northern Hemisphere and Asia is needed in order to reduce the levels of air pollution even further.

– Over the decades to come climate and energy policies are expected to improve our air quality further. But policies that are promoting domestic wood burning, diesel cars or the use of biofuels may actually increase air pollution if those policies are not accompanied by additional technical measures. Therefore, we need a holistic approach – one that combines air quality policies with climate change policies, as well as measures taken in sectors such as transport, energy and agriculture. In addition, if you view air pollution and climate in the same context the total cost will be significantly lower, he says.

The report was launched just a few weeks before the last round of EU negotiations on the revision of the national emission ceilings, which aims to set more stringent emission reduction commitments for the EU.

Here you can find more information and download the report.

For questions, please contact: Peringe Grennfelt, peringe.grennfelt@ivl.se, phone +10-788 67 84