By Catherine Teves
MANILA — United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling on countries worldwide to come up with initiatives that will help address air pollution and climate change-driving greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
“My message to governments is clear: tax pollution, end fossil fuel subsidies and stop building new coal plants,” he said in his 2019 World Environment Day (WED) message.
He said aside from costing societies over USD5 trillion annually as World Bank estimated, air pollution kills some seven million people annually, causes long-term ailments like asthma and impairs children’s cognitive development.
“Many air pollutants also cause global warming,” he continued.
Among those pollutants is black carbon which diesel engines, trash-burning, and dirty cookstoves produce, he noted.
“Reducing emissions of such pollutants will not only improve public health but could alleviate global warming by up to 0.5°C over the next few decades,” he said.
According to Guterres, developments over the years highlight the possibility of simultaneously addressing air pollution and reducing GHG emissions around the world.
“There are many successful initiatives that both clear the air and reduce GHG emissions such as phasing out coal-fired power plants and promoting the less polluting industry, transport, and domestic fuels,” he said.
He also cited rising investments in renewable energy and cleaner transport worldwide.
“It is in such initiatives, designed to improve air quality and fight climate change, that hope lies,” he said.
Air pollution is the focus of this year’s WED as Guterres warned nobody is safe from dirty air.
“All around the world — from megacities to small villages — people are breathing dirty air,” he said. “An estimated nine of 10 people worldwide are exposed to air pollutants that exceed WHO air quality guidelines. This is lowering life expectancy and damaging economies across the planet.”
He said countries worldwide must decisively act on the problem as tiny particles in the air enter the body when people breathe, causing illness and even death.
“These particles come from many sources: burning of fossil fuels for power and transport, chemicals and mining industries, open burning of waste, burning of forests and fields and use of dirty indoor cooking and heating fuels which are major problems in the developing world,” he said.
Experts grouped air pollution’s main human sources into households, industry, transportation, agriculture, and waste.
They said such sources release human health-threatening substances like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen oxide, ground-level ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, hydrocarbons, and lead.
In December 1972, UN General Assembly adopted a resolution designating June 5 of every year as WED to promote global awareness and action on protecting the environment.
UN noted since the first WED in 1974, this celebration has evolved into a global environmental platform celebrated in over 100 countries. (PNA)