Skip to main content

How clean is the air you breathe? Granted, it’s not something a lot of us think about. However, do you know that the air you’re breathing could be cutting your life in half? It’s no wonder that United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on us to do more to improve air quality.

On the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, I call on all countries to do more to improve air quality,” the UN chief said in a message for the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, which falls on Sept. 7 annually. In 2020, the United Nations General Assembly created the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies. The aim is to raise awareness and mobilize global action about air pollution.

“Today, as many as nine out of 10 people breathe polluted air, leading to some 7 million premature deaths each year, of whom 600,000 are children,” said the top UN official. “Unless we act decisively, this number could double by 2050.”


Air pollution is a global threat

A recent report from the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), which converts air pollution levels into their impact on life expectancy, found that dirty air is a far bigger threat and killer than smoking and HIV/Aids,

“The impact of particulate pollution is greater than the effects of devastating communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/Aids, behavioural killers like cigarette smoking, and even war.”  

Andrea Hinwood is the chief scientist at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). During an international online panel event, Hinwood echoed Guterres’s statements. He said that air pollution is one of the greatest environmental threats to our health, our climate and sustainable development.

“We have made air – the thing that keeps us alive – the number one threat to our health,” said Hinwood.

We’re breathing poor quality

Photo by Eli DeFaria on Unsplash

The first Global Assessment of Air Pollution Legislation (GAAPL) recently launched on 2 September by the United Nations Environment Programme.

GAAPL assessed air quality legislation in 194 countries and the European Union and found that one-third of the world’s countries have no legally mandated outdoor (ambient) air quality standards (1).

However, of the countries that do have these standards, none are in alignment with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

All that breathing is not good for you

According to the WHO, the deaths attributed to air pollution are caused by strokes, heart disease, acute respiratory infections, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 

Is this because of climate change?

“Healthy air and a healthy planet go hand in hand. And right now our air is far from healthy.”  –  Inger Andersen, economist and environmentalist

Air pollution is largely due to the burning of fossil fuels. Therefore, if we want to address air pollution, then we need to prioritize the health of our planet. According to a report from the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, addressing air quality won’t only ensure that one billion people breathe cleaner air by 2030, but it could also reduce global warming by a third of a degree Celsius by 2050.

How can we breathe better?

Apart from wearing air pollution masks and avoiding areas with intense contamination, we need to think long-term. We need to encourage governments and institutions to implement policies that can help to improve air quality.

“Better monitoring can identify sources of air pollution,” said Guterres. He added that enforcing stronger emissions standards on cars and industrial sites could also help cut down on pollution. “I welcome the recent global phase-out of leaded petrol,” he said.

“We must also accelerate access to clean cooking and clean heating. We must invest in renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. Coal use must be phased out.”

“If we take these steps, we can save as many as 150 million lives this century and help clean our atmosphere.”

Want to know more?

Joining the chorus of environmentalists, medical experts have come together to talk about the climate crisis. This new chorus of choices points out how the planet’s rising temperatures are the greatest threat to public health.


Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a journalist graduate and writer, specializing in health, beauty, and wellness. She also has a passion for poetry, equality, and natural hair. Identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to provide the latest information on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle and leave a more equitable society behind.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.