Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

October, 2016:

Buses are the main polluters, not private cars

Ariel Kong (“Air filters won’t fix our city’s poor air quality”, October 28) says children need to understand the causes of pollution and “get into the habit of using public transport”. And adds that hopefully when they grow up they will choose not to buy a car and “we will have fewer polluting vehicles on our roads”.

If she would read the Environment Bureau’s March 2013 paper on pollution, “A Clean Air Plan”, she would know that private vehicles account for a tiny fraction of the pollution caused by commercial vehicles and buses, especially the old ones.

On page16, she would see a graphic and the numbers: for particulate pollution, goods vehicles produced 890 tonnes, buses 270 tonnes and private cars just 20 tonnes annually (1.72 per cent of the total for buses plus goods vehicles); for nitrogen oxides, the numbers show goods vehicles produced 36,950 tonnes, buses 9,640 tonnes and private cars just 890 tonnes (1.91 per cent of buses plus goods vehicles).

Overall, buses (about 20,000 of them) produce 11 to 14 times the pollution of the 500,000 private cars in Hong Kong. Buses do carry more people, on average, but commercial vehicles and buses remain the overwhelming source of Hong Kong’s roadside pollution.

That Ariel Kong misses this point shows the success of the transport lobby in obscuring it, and highlights the immorality of their continuing refusal to protect the health of Hongkongers, old and young.

Paul Serfaty, Mid-Levels

300 million children breathe heavily toxic air: UNICEF

Some 300 million children live with outdoor air so polluted it can cause serious physical damage, including harming their developing brains, the United Nations said in a study released Monday.

Nearly one child in seven around the globe breathes outdoor air that is at least six times dirtier than international guidelines, according to the study by the UN Children’s Fund, which called air pollution a leading factor in child mortality.

UNICEF published the study, “Clear the Air for Children,” a week before the annual UN climate-change talks, with the upcoming round to be hosted by Morocco on November 7-18.

The agency, which promotes the rights and well-being of children, is pushing for world leaders to take urgent action to reduce air pollution in their countries.

“Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year, and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day,” said Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF.

“Pollutants don’t only harm children’s developing lungs. They can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains and, thus, their futures. No society can afford to ignore air pollution,” Lake said.

Toxic air is a drag on economies and societies, and already costs as much as 0.3 percent of global gross domestic product, the broad measure of economic activity, UNICEF said.

Those costs are expected to increase to about one percent of GDP by 2060, it said, as air pollution in many parts of the world worsens.

UNICEF points to satellite imagery which it says confirms that about two billion children live in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeds minimum air-quality guidelines set by the World Health Organization.

The air is poisoned by vehicle emissions, fossil fuels, dust, burning waste and other airborne pollutants, it said.

South Asia has the largest number of children living in such areas at about 620 million, followed by Africa with 520 million and the East Asia and Pacific region with 450 million.

The study also looked at indoor air pollution, typically caused by burning coal and wood for cooking and heating.

Together, outdoor and indoor air pollution are directly linked to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases that account for almost one death in 10 in children under the age of five, or nearly 600,000 children, making air pollution a leading danger to children’s health, UNICEF said.

The agency noted that children are more susceptible than adults to indoor and outdoor air pollution because their lungs, brains and immune systems are still developing and their respiratory tracts are more permeable.

Children breathe twice as quickly as adults and take in more air relative to their body weight.

The most vulnerable to illnesses caused by air pollution are children living in poverty, who tend to have poorer health and little access to health services.

– Better protect children –

To combat these noxious effects, UNICEF will call on the world’s leaders at the UN’s 22nd meeting on climate change in Marrakesh, known as COP22, to take urgent action to better protect children.

“Reducing air pollution is one of the most important things we can do for children,” UNICEF said in its report.

At the government level, UNICEF said steps should be taken to reduce fossil-fuel emissions and increase investments in sustainable energy and low-carbon development.

The agency, noting that air quality can fluctuate rapidly, also called for better monitoring of air pollution to help people minimize their exposure.

Children’s access to good-quality healthcare needs to be improved and breastfeeding in the child’s first six months should be encouraged to help prevent pneumonia.

Policymakers should “develop and build consensus on children’s environmental health indicators,” the report urged.


As incomes rise in China, so does concern about pollution

Over the last 40 years, hundreds of millions of people in China have escaped poverty as this enormous nation urbanized and became a manufacturing powerhouse fueled by cheap coal and cheap labor. But this development strategy has imposed enormous environmental costs on the Chinese people. Air pollution levels have soared, rural areas face severe water pollution and food safety continues to be a major concern.

China’s growth strategy also has international consequences. Air pollution from China travels east to Japan, Taiwan and South Korea and across the Pacific to the U.S. west coast. And China’s heavy use of fossil fuel has made it the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, raising the risk of severe climate change.

The Chinese people are well aware of how pollution is eroding their quality of life. The Weibo blogging platform, China’s version of Twitter, features daily discussions about the nation’s environmental challenges. And in Chinese cities, residents are demanding cleaner conditions through their words and their spending choices.

Dirty air and crowded streets

Although wealth has greatly increased in China in recent decades, life satisfaction surveys indicate that the Chinese people are not as happy as one might expect. We believe that pollution is the major cause.

In our book “Blue Skies Over Beijing: Economic Growth and the Environment in China ,” Professor Siqi Zheng of Tsinghua University and I argue that rising demand for environmental protection in China is an emerging trend that will improve the standard of living in China and increase overall global sustainability.

Multiple studies have shown that exposure to pollution in China is affecting public health and quality of life. Epidemiologists estimate exposure to air pollution shortens residents’ life expectancy by about 5.5 years in coal-dependent north China. Economists have found that both outdoor and indoor workers are less productive when exposed to higher levels of air pollution.

While China is ending its notorious one-child policy, urban Chinese couples still frequently choose to have just one child and arrange their lifestyles to invest in him or her. Many of these parents are proud of China’s economic growth but worried about how pollution may harm their child’s health.

In one interview for our book we talked to a Beijing resident with a Ph.D. from Tsinghua University, whom we identified at his request as Mr. Wu (many Chinese hesitate to be quoted by name criticizing urban living conditions). He said that his family planned to move to Canada or the United States after he earned enough money, in order to protect his daughter from dirty air and contaminated food and water in Beijing.

We also interviewed an urban planning scholar with a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley whom we referred to as Dr. Zhang. In 2015 Zhang was recruited by Renmin University in Beijing and accepted an appointment as assistant professor. But after six months he decided to move to another university because he could not tolerate Beijing’s heavy haze and worried that it would harm his two young children’s health. Zhang’s case is not unique: Chinese urbanites told us that many top universities in Beijing lose out to Hong Kong universities when they try to recruit new economics and business Ph.D. graduates because of Beijing’s air pollution.

Paying for greener lifestyles

Chinese urbanites’ desire for cleaner, healthier living conditions is evident in their purchases. Looking at real estate transaction data from Chinese cities, we found a willingness to pay to live in a city or a location with higher environmental quality. Using data on all of the apartments sold in Beijing around the year 2005, we found evidence that apartment prices were higher in parts of the city featuring easy access to fast public transit, clean air (pollution levels vary across the metropolitan area) and access to green parks.

For example, all else equal, we calculated that in neighborhoods where levels of fine particulate air pollution (known as PM10) are 10 micrograms per cubic meter higher than other neighborhoods, real estate prices are 4 percent lower. In a cross-city study we found that apartments sell for higher prices in less polluted cities than units of the same quality and size in dirtier locations.

And city dwellers are acting to protect themselves. By examining internet sales data, we found daily sales of masks and air filters are much higher on days when the government announces that a city’s air pollution is “hazardous” versus days when government announces that local air quality is “excellent.” (Urban dwellers can track these reports with an Iphone app.)

These results suggest that China’s urban consumers trust government pollution announcements now — but this was not always true. Past research has documented that government agencies manipulated data to overstate the number of “blue sky” days between 2001 and 2010.

Recently, however, the cost of independently monitoring air pollution has declined. In 2008 the U.S Embassy in Beijing installed rooftop monitoring equipment and began providing measurements of local ambient air pollution. Growing competition in the “market for environmental information” has given the Chinese government incentive to truthfully report air pollution levels.

Beijing is also notorious for its traffic congestion. China’s recent investment in “bullet trains,” which travel at roughly 175 miles per hour, has increased access to mega cities. For example, people can now live in the nearby second-tier city of Tianjin and commute to Beijing in 30 minutes by train, instead of 1.5 hours by car.
We have documented increased home prices in second- and third-tier cities connected by bullet train to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Competing for talent

The urban history of the United States suggests that a city’s environmental conditions can greatly improve within a short period of time. Pittsburgh, which was heavily polluted during its heyday as a steel-making town through the 1960s, has transitioned to a high-skill economy and now markets itself as green and sustainable.

Many of China’s richer coastal cities are already following a similar arc. Xiamen is a medium-sized city with a population of about 3.7 million, located on China’s southeast coast and the west bank of the Taiwan Straits. It enjoys mild winters and cool summers, with an annual mean temperature of 21 degrees Celsius, and clean air.

Xiamen’s leaders are pursuing a growth strategy based on the city’s amenities. A high-level municipal official told us they are using beach access, clean air, temperate climate and high-quality urban services to compete for talent and new firms. This strategy creates incentives for local leaders to invest in improving quality of life, and offers mobile urbanites choices about where to live.

China’s leaders still care about economic growth, but now they recognize the importance of attracting and retaining talented people, and are worried about an international brain drain as skilled workers move to Canada and the United States. As part of that strategy, national and provincial leaders are starting to evaluate local officials’ efforts to curb pollution and promote energy efficiency.

One mayor in a small, affluent city in the Yangtze River Delta told Siqi, “I do not want my citizens to complain about the pollution in my city. I do not want to become a bad ‘star’ on Weibo. In this case, even if I achieve very high GDP growth, I will have no chance to be promoted.”

Global benefits from a greener China

China’s transition from heavy manufacturing to a modern service economy will not be painless. Hundreds of millions of low-skilled workers prefer safe employment at a government factory, even if it means their city is polluted. One decentralized approach would be to allow some cities to become green centers featuring technology-driven high human capital industries while others continue to rely on heavy industry.

As China burns cleaner fuels such as natural gas and generates more of its power using renewables, it will become easier for China to be a “good global citizen” and work with the United States and other nations to seek to mitigate climate change. Over 18 percent of the world’s population lives in China, and a majority of China’s population now lives in cities. If China’s growing urban middle class succeeds in its demands for a better quality of life, the benefits will reach far beyond China’s borders.The Conversation

By Matthew Kahn, Professor of Economics, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Chinese officials questioned after cotton wool shoved in equipment to monitor air pollution: report

One official in Xian also accused of doctoring smog data stored on a computer to massage the figures, according to newspaper report

Three environmental officials in northern China have been questioned by the police after air quality tests were allegedly doctored by putting cotton wool in the sampling equipment to filter out impurities, according to a newspaper report.

One official in Xian in Shaanxi province is also accused of manipulating air pollution data stored in a computer, the Huashang Daily reported.

Environmental protection officials around China are under pressure to take measures to improve air quality after the central government announced two years ago that it had “declared war on pollution”.

The allegations of fiddling test results have been made against the director of the Chang’an bureau of Xian’s environmental protection agency, plus the director and deputy director of the air sampling station in the district, according to the report.

The director of the air sampling station sneaked into the station several times to manipulate data on computer after the station moved to part of the Xian University of Posts and Telecommunications, the newspaper said.

The centre is also overseen by the China National Environmental Monitoring Centre and officials became suspicious after a sudden improvement in the quality of the data.
Surveillance footage shot at the Xian monitoring centre was also allegedly deleted as staff knew the watchdog would be visiting, according to the article.

A source with knowledge of the matter was quoted as saying that the director of the station may have feared punishment because of the poor quality of the data collected.

Measures taken to ensure the accuracy of air quality monitoring include sending data immediately to the national environmental monitoring centre.

Monitoring devices are also programmed to detect abnormal results and watchdogs visit sampling centres without advance warning to carry out checks, an employee at the Xian Environmental Protection Agency was quoted as saying.

More than one million Chinese people died from illnesses linked to air pollution in 2012, according to figures from the World Health Organisation.

The Chinese government has been stepping up its efforts to improve air quality in recent years, including setting up a no-coal zone in cities around Beijing next year in an effort to tackle the capital’s notorious smog.

Source URL:

Detroit Incinerator Is Hotspot for Health Problems, Environmentalists Claim

The country’s biggest trash-burning facility has been issued with a notice to sue, with local residents complaining of the bad smell and pollution it produces

At the intersection of two highways just outside downtown Detroit, a hulking relic of the city’s past looms over the skyline: the largest municipal trash incinerator in the US. It’s a facility that has raised concerns of nearby residents since its construction in the 1980s.

And some days, it stinks.

“The odors, if you ride I-94, you get this foul, rotten egg smell,” said Sandra Turner-Handy, who lives about three miles from the facility.

The 59-year-old said her son used to work a block away from the incinerator and said the smell was “constant”. Her granddaughter developed asthma while attending a school near the incinerator, but hasn’t used an inhaler since she graduated and moved away.

The persistent odor and emission of other polluting substances are among 40 alleged Clean Air Act and state violations that have been logged against the company that owns the facility, Detroit Renewable Energy, since March 2015, according to a notice to sue by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

“It’s the things that you can’t smell that are the most harmful,” said Turner-Handy. “And how do residents report something that they can’t smell?”

In 2015, the incinerator burned more than 650,000 tons of garbage, according to the notice. And since the beginning of that year, the incinerator has been fined for persistently violating an earlier agreement with the state for alleged state violations.

The law center also said in the filing that the incinerator presents a clear example of an environmental justice problem, as a majority of the trash burnt at the facility is imported from outlying communities, which pay $10 a ton less than Detroit to dispose of garbage.

“In short, Detroit is subsidizing other communities throughout the State of Michigan, the Midwest, and Canada to dispose of its garbage at the Incinerator,” the filing said, with the incinerator “located in a neighborhood that is composed mostly of low-income people of color and is heavily overburdened by air pollution”.

There’s a long-running debate over whether incineration is better for the environment than landfills. But communities located near incinerators have long lamented that they bear the brunt of its adverse impacts on air quality.

Citing statistics from the EPA, the center said 7,280 residents live within one mile of the incinerator, of whom 60% live below the federal poverty line and 87% are people of color. An EPA report also found that the area is a “hotspot for respiratory related health impacts when compared to other Michigan communities”, according to the law center.

The notice to sue also names Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, along with the state and federal environment agencies. The agencies have 60 days to commence an enforcement action, the law center said, and if neither pursues any, a lawsuit may be filed on behalf of residents to enforce the Clean Air Act.

Detroit Renewable Energy, which says the facility provides energy to more than 140 buildings in the downtown and midtown neighborhoods, downplayed the litany of claims in the notice of intent.

In a statement, the company said that it has invested approximately $6m over the last few years to “improve odor management” at the facility. The company said it employs nearly 300 residents, operates a “sophisticated” waste-to-energy facility, and “places the highest priority on complying with the strict and complex requirements established by the EPA and the state environmental department.

“In short, we have done our part,” the company said. “Any claim to the contrary would simply be false.”

The law center says otherwise.

Beyond odor, the notice of intent to sue also highlights an additional 19 violations for emitting carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter above legal thresholds. The incinerator creates a “significant amount” of particulate matter, said Nick Schroeck, executive director of the center, which “can get lodged in people’s lungs”.

The incinerator can’t be directly linked to cases of asthma, but the filing said “particulate matter emissions have been shown to trigger asthma incidents, particularly amongst children”.

Activists are pushing for a ballot initiative for November 2017 to close down the facility in favor of cleaner-energy-producing methods.

“We initially approached this topic sort of by looking at what it was we could do that would be effective within the confines of city law, of state law, and how a ballot initiative could actually rectify a problem in the city,” said Mac Farr, treasurer and spokesman for Sustainable Detroit. “And we could take a policy change and use it to both unify the city and also make the lives of Detroiters better. This was the topic that we settled on.”

Farr said the group’s motivations for the ballot initiative stem from the “public health ramifications” of the incinerator.

“We have some of the highest rates of asthma [in Detroit], the highest that are clustered directly downwind of this incinerator,” he said. “It’s four to five times the statewide average, and there’s a public health dimension to this that needs to be addressed.”

Farr said the group hopes the ballot petition will force city officials to examine the issue, but it has no clear solution for how Detroit should dispose of waste without an incinerator. He suggested a more “robust, citywide recycling program” could “divert a lot of material out of the waste stream if we were to shut off incineration as a method of disposal”.

Officials estimated earlier this year that only 11% of households in the city are recycling.

Dr Abdul El-Sayed, executive director and health officer at the Detroit health department, said issues surrounding the incinerator hadn’t been on his department’s radar until recently, but it’s now “very squarely on my plate”.

“I think it’s obvious that when you burn anything, it’s going to produce material that goes up into the air. That material can do a number of hazardous things,” El-Sayed said. “I think it’s clear that those things are not good for the lungs, and the eyes and some of the other organs … the heart. It’s, generally, not the cleanest, most efficient way of addressing the problem with garbage.”

How two women from Canada are leading the fight against marine pollution in Hong Kong

Lisa Christensen and Nissa Marion helm Ecozine, an environmental organisation behind the annual Hong Kong Clean-up Challenge

When former Canadian golf marketing executive Lisa Christensen first took part in a 1999 coastal clean-up event, little did she know she would commit her life to tackling Hong Kong’s waste problem.

Neither did she know she would later found an environmental organisation empowering tens of thousands of people to clean up the city’s shorelines every year.

Last year Christensen’s company Ecozine, a media platform devoted to sustainable lifestyles, engaged 75,623 people to clean up 4.6 million kilograms of trash from 2,447km of shorelines, country park trails and city streets during its annual Hong Kong Clean-up Challenge.

Nissa Marion is the Robin to Christensen’s Batman in fighting the city’s environmental injustice. The former model and actress from Canada joined Christensen at Ecozine in 2010 and is now the editor-in-chief of its publications. The challenge has evolved from a one-day event 16 years ago to a nine-week programme enjoyed by individuals and corporations alike. With the latest challenge ongoing since September 1 and running till December 1, Christensen and Marion shared with the Post their views on how to address the city’s problem of plastic waste.

What inspired you to start beach clean-up events in Hong Kong?

LC: When I arrived in Hong Kong in 1997, I did a lot of hiking. I was up in Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung, and was shocked at all the trash I saw on the beach and how the beach was just completely destroyed. I had never seen anything like that, growing up in Canada where we have pristine, clean oceans. I just couldn’t get over what I saw there. So I investigated and found that Hong Kong had virtually no recycling system. It had a very high consumption rate, poor waste management strategies and solutions, and a big littering problem. So I joined a beach clean-up in 1999 with Christine Loh Kung-wai. She’s now the undersecretary for the environment. I was so inspired by what I saw that I decided to organise my own beach clean-up the next year.

How did the original clean-up events eventually evolve into the annual Hong Kong Clean-up Challenge?

LC: We had about 100 volunteers the first year. In 2003, we started to get more companies involved. That year I reached out to the organisers of the International Coastal Clean-up in Washington. They said they would love to have us as their Hong Kong representative. So that’s when real growth started. We grew from 50 volunteers to 150, and then 500, and eventually 7,500 volunteers. The number is still growing. As for the Clean-up event, we have seen around a 60 per cent increase each year. Last year, we had about 75,000 participants.

How does the Hong Kong Clean-up Challenge work?

LC: We identify hundreds of beaches that have not been routinely cleaned by the government, such as mangroves, rocky shorelines, beaches and even country trails.

Companies and individuals can go on our website and choose a beach that is near their neighbourhood. They can then sign up as a team to participate. We provide all the know-how materials and education. We invite the team captain to collect and manage data when they collect the trash. This is a very important part of what we do. [The data] goes into a global index managed by Ocean Conservancy, a non-governmental ­organisation in Washington. And by the end of the challenge, teams can win awards for categories such as ‘Weirdest Item Found’, ‘Most Trash Collected’, ‘Largest Non-corporate Team’. We will invite our goodwill ambassadors like actor Daniel Wu and musician Jack Johnson to give out awards to winners at a ceremony.

What are some of the most rewarding moments in a clean-up?

NM: Almost every time we do a beach clean-up, someone in the group would come up to me and say: “Wow I had no idea. I am never using a plastic straw again,” or “I am never buying another plastic bottle of water again.” These small wins and those who share with me that they are creating a change in their lives based on their participation are so rewarding. It is inspiring to know that what happened to me is happening to other people.

How has local environmental awareness changed over the years, and how has this impacted the Hong Kong Clean-up Challenge?

NM: From our perspective, the awareness is increasing but action still needs to follow. We haven’t quite reached that tipping point yet. But we have seen people taking a stance and saying they want to do something about the environment. In 2003 when I first got involved, we would call companies and say: “Hey, we’ve got this great event and it’s free. We provide everything. It’s environmental and it’s about sustainability.” We’d say: “It’s CSR (corporate social responsibility)”, which is something they had not heard of yet. And the companies would say: “That sounds great! We love what you are doing but we don’t have any budget for that. It’s just not part of our company’s remit.” But now we have companies calling us to say: “We have the team, we have the budget and we have this CSR thing we have to fulfil, so can you help us out?” So there is this tectonic shift in the corporate world also.

LC: When we first started, companies would say there is no way I could get my staff out in the sun without a mask, especially post-Sars. People would say: “You want me to pick up trash? That’s not my job. It’s someone else’s”. But now this is considered cool.

How are global views on ocean conservation now compared to when you started?

LC: Ocean conservation and waste management were never part of anyone’s agenda. It was always air pollution or climate change. But the recent Our Ocean Conference was held for the first time in Washington. President Barack Obama, Leonardo DiCaprio and others pledged US$4.2 billion (HK$32.6 billion) to clean up our oceans.

Everyone at the conference was mentioning plastic pollution. So it has gone from being a non-issue to an issue of great significance where important people are paying attention.

Some people are blaming the mainland for our coastal pollution problems in Hong Kong. What is your response to this?

NM: The headlines say stuff like “Shocking amount of debris in Hong Kong”, but it’s really not shocking if you have been working on this issue for 16 years. It’s good that the media is picking it up. But the important thing to remember is that, yes, some trash from recent rainstorms was from China – from the Pearl River Delta. But that doesn’t absolve us of being responsible for our own waste. And there is a gross amount of waste washing up on Hong Kong shores that is from Hong Kong people. Pointing fingers is dangerous because it removes our responsibilities. [As an organisation], it’s very much our commitment to help Hong Kong take responsibility for its own waste footprint.

LC: Personally I don’t see any immediate increase in the level of pollution. It has always been there. But of course the problem is worse compared to 16 years ago. The current is changing, and with it, the water direction, which affects how much trash is brought into Hong Kong’s coastlines. It’s seasonal. Freshwater from the Pearl River Delta also brings in trash. But whatever the case, I have personally seen local fishermen chucking litter into the water. Sometimes when you have 150 extra idle fishing boats in the harbour at times when they are not allowed to fish, they throw things into the water. I have witnessed dumping action in Hong Kong waters by Hong Kong vessels and entities – pleasure crafts, fishing vessels, individuals and contractors. I have seen it all. I know there’s been dumping action going on for years because the stuff we’ve been collecting off the beach – it’s not litter left by beachgoers. They are trash that has been dumped by boats out at sea, and brought in by the waves.

What is new at this year’s Hong Kong Clean-up Challenge?

LC: This year we actually initiated a registration fee for teams. It’s the first time we are doing this. So there’s a registration fee of HK$500 for a non-governmental organisation, school or a family. It is HK$1,000 for a small or medium company and HK$3,000 for a large company with over 100 staff. One other new thing this year is that Ocean Conservancy invited Hong Kong to host its 30th anniversary event. So from November 15 to 18, Ecozine will be organising the global event, inviting all the representatives around the world to come to Hong Kong for a global conference.

Protecting people and planet from ‘invisible killer’ is focus of UN health campaign to tackle air pollution

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with the Coalition for Climate and Clean Air (CCAC) and the Government of Norway has launched a global awareness campaign on the dangers of air pollution – especially ‘invisible killers’ such as black carbon, ground-level ozone and methane – for the health of individuals and the planet.

Titled BreatheLife: Clean air. A healthy future, the campaign aims to mobilize cities and their inhabitants on issues of health and protecting the planet from the effects of air pollution.

Moreover, By WHO and CCAC joining forces, ‘BreatheLife’ brings together expertise and partners that can tackle both the climate and health impacts of air pollution.

According to WHO, air pollution kills nearly seven million people each year, nearly 12 per cent of deaths worldwide. It is responsible for 35 per cent of deaths due to lung disease, 27 per cent of deaths from heart disease, 34 per cent of deaths from stroke, and 36 per cent of deaths from lung cancer.

Urban air pollution levels also tend to be higher in many low and middle-income cities and in poor neighbourhoods of high-income cities. This means reductions in pollutants can have particularly large health benefits for lower income groups as well as for children, elderly, and women, the agency explains.

The campaign seeks to cut in half the number of deaths from air pollution by 2030 – the target year for the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015.

‘Breathe Life’ highlights the practical policies that cities can implement to improve the air quality through better housing, transport infrastructure, managements of waste and energy systems. It also educates individuals and communities about the measures they can take daily to achieve cleaner air, such as stopping the incineration of waste, development of green spaces and the choice of walking or cycling.

Nine in ten people breathe air that is not safe. Air pollution is an invisible killer that we may face on a simple walk home or even in our homes.

Improved vehicle standards, prioritization of clean public transport, and the adoption of stoves and more efficient alternative fuel for cooking, lighting and heating are also part of the actions put forward by the campaign the goal of saving more lives and protect the environment.

For WHO and its partners, this series of measures to achieve a reduction of pollutants could significantly reduce the number of annual deaths from air pollution.

Nearly 200 nations agree binding deal to cut greenhouse gases

Nearly 200 nations have agreed a legally binding deal to cut back on greenhouse gases used in refrigerators and air conditioners, a major step against climate change that prompted loud cheers when it was announced on Saturday.

The deal, which includes the world’s two biggest economies, the United States and China, divides countries into three groups with different deadlines to reduce the use of factory-made hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases, which can be 10,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as greenhouse gases.

“It’s a monumental step forward,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said as he left the talks in the Rwandan capital of Kigali late on Friday.

Under the pact, developed nations, including much of Europe and the United States, commit to reducing their use of the gases incrementally, starting with a 10 percent cut by 2019 and reaching 85 percent by 2036.

Many wealthier nations have already begun to reduce their use of HFCs.

Two groups of developing countries will freeze their use of the gases by either 2024 or 2028, and then gradually reduce their use. India, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and the Gulf countries will meet the later deadline.

They refused the earlier date because they have fast-expanding middle classes who want air conditioning in their hot climates, and because India feared damaging its growing industries.

“Last year in Paris, we promised to keep the world safe from the worst effects of climate change. Today, we are following through on that promise,” said U.N. environment chief Erik Solheim in a statement, referring to 2015’s Paris climate talks.


The deal binding 197 nations crowns a wave of measures to help fight climate change this month. Last week, the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb climate-warming emissions passed its required threshold to enter into force after India, Canada and the European Parliament ratified it.

But unlike the Paris agreement, the Kigali deal is legally binding, has very specific timetables and has an agreement by rich countries to help poor countries adapt their technology.

A quick reduction of HFCs could be a major contribution to slowing climate change, avoiding perhaps 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 Fahrenheit) of a projected rise in average temperatures by 2100, scientists say.

Environmental groups had called for an ambitious agreement on cutting HFCs to limit the damage from the roughly 1.6 billion new air conditioning units expected to come on stream by 2050, reflecting increased demand from an expanding middle class in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Benson Ireri, a senior policy adviser at aid group Christian Aid, said that all African countries had volunteered for the earlier deadline because they worried about global warming pushing more of their citizens into poverty.

“It was a shame that India and a handful of other countries chose a slower time frame for phasing down HFCs but the bulk of nations, including China, have seen the benefits of going for a quicker reduction. It’s also been encouraging to see small island states and African countries a part of this higher ambition group,” he said in a statement.

A scientific panel advising the signatories to the deal said phasing out HFCs will cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, said Manoj Kumar Singh, India’s joint secretary at the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

“The implementation starts from 2024 onwards so there is enough time to plan and mobilise finance,” he told Reuters.

Donors had already put $80 million in a fund to start implementing the agreement, said Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But Sergey Vasiliev, the head of the Russian delegation, said Russia’s estimates of the costs were higher and argued countries’ contributions to a multilateral fund to help poor countries adapt their technology should be voluntary.

The details of the funding will be finalised at a later meeting.

“We think it is more than $10 billion and some experts estimated up to $20 billion,” he told Reuters.

The HFC talks build on the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which succeeded in phasing out the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), widely used at that time in refrigeration and aerosols.

The protocol contains provisions for noncompliance, ranging from the provision of technical and financial assistance to trade sanctions in ozone depleting substances, which will be widened to include HFCs.

The original aim of the Montreal Protocol was to stop the depletion of the ozone layer, which shields the planet from ultraviolet rays linked to skin cancer and other conditions.

That effort cost $3.5 billion over 25 years, said Stephen Olivier Andersen, the director of research at Washington-based think tank Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development. Scientists say it prevented 2 million cases of skin cancer. (Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

New watered-down EU air pollution targets

Compared to the Commission’s proposal, the relaxed targets finally agreed by member states and parliament will result in thousands of additional cases of premature death.

On 30 June, the last day of the Dutch EU Presidency, the Council and the European Parliament reached a provisional agreement on a new National Emission Ceilings (NEC) directive.

The new directive establishes national limits for the emissions of five pollutants: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), ammonia and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). The limits are set as binding National Emission Reduction Commitments (NERC), expressed as percentage reductions from the base year 2005.

The NERCs for 2020 to 2029 are identical to those to which the member states are already committed in the revised Gothenburg protocol under the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. Since these limits in many cases allow emissions that are even higher that what is expected to result from countries implementing already adopted legislation, they have widely been criticised for their weakness.

More importantly, new stricter NERCs from 2030 have now been agreed. These are set to reduce the health impacts of air pollution by 49.6 per cent in 2030, compared to 2005. While the Commission and the Parliament aimed for an ambition level that would result in a 52 per cent reduction in premature deaths from air pollution, the Council (i.e. the member states) argued for a significantly less ambitious target of 48 per cent. The compromise now agreed has been estimated to result in some 10,000 additional annual premature deaths in 2030, on top of more than a quarter of a million annual premature deaths that are expected to remain if the Commission’s proposal was to be implemented.

Looking at the specific NERCs for each member state, and comparing these with the Commission’s proposal, it was agreed to lower 79 of the 140 targets for 2030, while agreeing to keep 40 at the level proposed by the Commission, and setting more ambitious targets in just 21 cases (see Table).

At the bottom of the league among member states we find Bulgaria, Greece and Romania, who have all chosen to weaken their NERCs for all five pollutants, while Austria, Denmark, Italy, Poland and the UK lowered targets for four of the pollutants.

In contrast, Finland accepted all its targets, closely followed by Belgium, France and Sweden, which stick to four out of the five targets. As icing on the cake, Finland has opted for a tougher target for ammonia, and Sweden has opted for tougher targets for both sulphur dioxide and PM2.5.

For the EU as a whole, ammonia and NMVOC are the pollutants for which the ambition level has been downgraded the most, by six percentage points. This outcome for ammonia is particularly remarkable as the emission cuts achieved so far for this pollutant have been very modest compared to those for the other pollutants, especially considering that the proposed reduction target for 2030 was much less ambitious than for the other pollutants.

Member states managed to remove the ozone precursor methane completely from the directive, despite objections from the Parliament and the Commission. Here, the industrial farming lobby was instrumental in pushing through both the drastically lowered ambition for ammonia and the removal of methane.

Moreover, member states succeeded in introducing a variety of additional flexibilities in order to make it easier for them to comply. While the Commission had already included three flexibilities in its proposal, five more have now been added to the final text. Environmental organisations have strongly criticised these flexibilities, claiming that they will result in higher emissions; delayed reductions; more avoidable deaths and environmental damage; more unnecessary administration; and an unenforceable directive.

Because of the lax 2020 targets, and to better ensure that countries really are on track to meet their 2030 NERCs, the Parliament had also pushed for binding targets for the intermediate year 2025. The Commission’s proposal included only indicative (i.e. non-binding) targets for that year. Here, member states succeeded in watering down even the already weak Commission proposal, so that now there are only vague guiding figures for 2025.

Commenting on the outcome, Louise Duprez, senior air quality policy officer at the EEB, said: “EU action to cut air pollution is welcome and will help Europeans breathe more easily. But all in all this is a missed opportunity that will still leave tens of thousands of citizens exposed to avoidable air pollution. The Parliament and the Commission were defeated by member states, including the UK, France, Italy, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, which preferred to allow industry and agriculture to carry on polluting rather than focusing attention on measures to save people’s lives.”

On 12 July, the Parliament ’s environment committee voted to support the provisional NEC deal, with 43 votes in favour and 14 against. Before it comes into force, the NEC proposal will go to the Parliament for a vote in plenary in November, and after that the Council will need to officially endorse the text.

Christer Ågren

Table: Country-by-country national emission reduction commitments (NERC) for 2030 in per cent as compared to the base year 2005. Left column shows the Commission’s proposal, as adjusted in early 2015; Right column shows the final outcome, as agreed on 30 June 2016.

Table: Country-by-country national emission reduction commitments (NERC) for 2030 in per cent as compared to the base year 2005. Left column shows the Commission’s proposal, as adjusted in early 2015; Right column shows the final outcome, as agreed on 30 June 2016.

OECD warns of rising costs of air pollution

Outdoor air pollution could cause up to nine million premature deaths a year by 2060 and cost US$ 3.3 trillion annually as a result of sick days, healthcare expenditure and reduced agricultural output, unless action is taken.

In 2010, outdoor air pollution caused more than three million premature deaths worldwide, with elderly people and children most vulnerable. New projections presented in an OECD report “The Economic Consequences of Outdoor Air Pollution” imply a doubling, or even tripling, of premature deaths from particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone (O3) – or one premature death every four or five seconds – by 2060.

The projected increase in concentrations of PM2.5 and ozone will result in significant economic costs to society. The direct market impact of air pollution in terms of lower worker productivity due to illness, higher spending on health care, and lower crop yields, could exceed US$ 3,000 billion annually by 2060, equal to one per cent of GDP. For example, between now and 2060, the number of annual work days lost to air-pollution-related illness is expected to jump from 1.2 to 3.7 billion.

These estimates of economic market impacts do not however reflect the true costs of air pollution because shortening of people’s lives and pain and suffering from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases do not really have a market price. The OECD has therefore also estimated the non-market welfare costs by using economic studies on how people value their health and how much they would be prepared to pay to reduce the health risks, i.e. by introducing policies and measures that would cut air pollutant emissions.

Based on this data, the current (2015) annual global welfare costs of mortality and morbidity from outdoor air pollution are estimated at US$ 3,440 billion, and by 2060 they would amount to between US$ 20,000 and 27,000 billion a year (see table).

Table: Total global welfare costs of air pollution (billions US$)


It should be noted that air pollution damage to ecosystems, biodiversity and our cultural heritage has not been assigned any monetary value and is therefore not included in these economic estimates.

According to the projections, the biggest rises in air pollution mortality rates are expected in India, China, Korea and Central Asian countries, where rising populations and congested cities mean more people are exposed to high levels of pollution. The premature death rates are forecast to be up to three times higher in 2060 than in 2010 in China and up to four times higher in India. Mortality rates are however seen to be stabilising in the United States and falling in much of Western Europe thanks in part to efforts to move to cleaner energy and transport.

Projected GDP losses will be biggest in China, Russia, India, Korea and countries in Eastern Europe and the Caspian region, as health costs and lower labour productivity hit output.

“The number of lives cut short by air pollution is already terrible and the potential rise in the next few decades is terrifying,” said OECD Environment Director Simon Upton. “If this is not motivation enough to act, this report shows there will also be a heavy economic cost to not taking action. We must prevent these projections from becoming reality.”

“It is time for governments to stop fussing about the costs of efforts to limit air pollution and start worrying about the much larger costs of allowing it to continue unchecked. Their citizens’ lives are in their hands,” concluded Simon Upton.

Christer Ågren