About a third of the world’s countries lack laws about air quality standards. In countries where such laws exist, they often fail to comply with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. An estimated 31% of countries that could introduce such ambient air quality standards have yet to adopt them.
These are some of the key findings of the first-ever assessment of air quality laws and regulations by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Regulating Air Quality: The report explored national air quality legislation in 194 states and the EU, assessing the legal framework and effectiveness. It concluded with key elements for a comprehensive model of air quality laws to be considered in national legislation and makes the case for considering a global treaty on ambient air quality standards.
The WHO identified air pollution as the single largest environmental health risk, with 92% of the world’s population living in places where air pollution levels exceed safe limits. Unfairly, it affects women, children and elderly people in low-income countries. Recent studies suggest possible correlations between COVID-19 health outcomes and air pollution. Finally, although air pollution knows no borders, only 31% of countries have legal mechanisms to address cross border air pollution.
“There will be no jab to prevent seven million premature deaths caused by air pollution each year, a number poised to grow by more than 50% by 2050,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “The air we breathe is a fundamental public good, and governments must do more to ensure it is clean and safe.”
According to the Sun’s website, “The right to a healthy environment, including clean air, is a precursor to achieving Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals on good health, affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities, responsible production, and life on earth (SDGs 3, 7, 11, 12, and 15). At its first session, the 5th UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) called on Member States to act across sectors to reduce all forms of air pollution.”
The study shows that “even the most admirable national air quality objectives must be supported with strong institutional frameworks, implementation capacity and well-coordinated laws, if they are to be effective,” says Professor Eloise Scotford, who co-authored the report.
The report urges more countries to adopt comprehensive air quality laws, which includes setting high standards in law for both indoor and ambient air pollution, increasing transparency, enhancing enforcement systems, and improving legal mechanisms for monitoring air quality, policy and regulatory coordination for national and transboundary air pollution alike.
Practical guidelines are being developed by UNEP under the Montevideo Environmental Law Programme to expand its assistance to countries in addressing the air pollution crisis. Direct technical support to countries, involving development and implementation of legal frameworks for air pollution, is also being planned.