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On the 18th-26th of May, world health leaders gathered in Geneva for the 68thsession of the World Health Assembly (WHA). Delegates at the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution to address the health impacts of air pollution – the world’s largest single environmental health risk - . Every year 4.3 million deaths occur from exposure to indoor air pollution and 3.7 million deaths are attributable to outdoor air pollution.

The resolution marks an important step for tackling health inequalities, since air pollution disproportionately affects the poor and disempowered, including women and children, and those living in low- and middle-income countries.

The resolution calls on Member States to redouble their efforts to identify, address and prevent the health impacts of air pollution, including enabling health systems and health authorities to play a leadership role in raising awareness about air pollu­tion’s impacts and the savings in lives and health care costs that can be realized through reducing pollution and pollution exposures.  The resolution also called on member states to strengthen multi-sectoral cooperation, integrating health concerns into all national, regional and local air pollution-related policies.  Countries also were urged to develop air quality monitoring systems and health registries to improve sur­veillance for all illnesses related to air pollution; promote clean cooking, heating and lighting technologies and fuels; and strengthen international transfer of expertise, technologies and scientific data in the field of air pollution.   

The Assembly also provided delegations with the evi­dence and arguments to ensure that health is appropriately reflected in the forthcom­ing negotiations for a global climate change agreement, at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP21). The December 2015 event is widely regarded as the final opportunity to avert the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. 

EEA’s 2015 State of the Environment report confirms that, urban air pollution is set to become the main environmental cause of premature mortality in 2050, and 75% of Europeans live in or around cities, which is projected to increase. Thus, this resolution could help bring significant benefits in achieving cleaner air to the overwhelming majority (90%) of European city dwellers who breathe in air that is considered harmful to health by the WHO.

Tackling air pollution will have enormous economic benefits for European health systems. On 28 April, WHO Europe released a new economic study highlighting the costs of air pollution for 53 countries in the European region. According to this study, the approximately 600 000 premature deaths and the diseases caused by air pollution add up to an economic cost of US$ 1.6 trillion in 2010.

EFA, together with the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) has worked to improve air quality in Europe and globally for the past 10 years.

Source: Text edited from Health and Environment (HEAL)