According to a new research from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), one-third of countries do not have legally binding outdoor air quality guidelines.
It further stated that where such laws exist, requirements vary significantly and are frequently out of sync with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, and that at least 31% of countries with the authority to enact such rules have yet to do so.
The research was released ahead of the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, which is the first-ever global assessment of air quality legislation and regulations. It looks at national air quality legislation in 194 countries and the EU.
The report assesses the effectiveness of various legal and institutional frameworks in ensuring the attainment of air quality standards, and concludes with key elements for a robust model of air quality governance to be considered in national legislation, as well as making the case for considering a global treaty on ambient air quality standards.
With 92 percent of the world’s population living in places where air pollution levels above the acceptable limit, and disproportionately harming women, children, and the elderly in low-income countries, WHO has recognised air pollution as the single greatest environmental health concern.
According to the UNEP report, ambient air quality is not yet legally protected in at least 34% of countries. It maintained that guidelines are impossible to compare even when they are officially accepted, because 49% of the world’s countries consider air pollution solely as an outdoor issue.
It went on to say that institutional responsibility for meeting standards is poor around the world, with only 33% of countries establishing legal duties to satisfy them. “Monitoring is essential for determining if requirements are being met, yet it is not legally obligatory in at least 37% of nations. Finally, despite the fact that air pollution recognises no boundaries, only 31% of countries have legal procedures in place to combat cross-border air pollution.
Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director, said there will be no vaccine to prevent the seven million premature deaths caused by air pollution each year, a number that is expected to rise by more than half by 2050.
Prof. Eloise Scotford, a co-author of the paper, stated that the findings show that “even the most admirable national air quality targets must be backed by strong institutional frameworks, implementation capability, and well-coordinated regulations if they are to be effective.”
More countries should adopt strong air quality rules, according to the research, which include setting high legal requirements for both indoor and outdoor air pollution, as well as improving legal systems for air quality monitoring.