UN: Air pollution has long been an environmental and health problem – but now it should now be viewed as a human rights issue as well, according to the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment.
Air pollution is leading to 7 million premature deaths a year around the world, including 600,000 among children, David Boyd said.
“To put that 7 million figure in context, that’s more deaths every year than the combined total of war, murder, tuberculosis, HIV, AIDs and malaria,” the UN expert told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
“It’s a global health crisis that really needs to be addressed. Air pollution violates the rights to life, to health, the rights of the child, and also violates the right to live in a healthy and sustainable environment,” he said.
But clear solutions to the problem exist, he said in a report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva Monday, laying out a range of steps governments can take to cut air pollution.
Though air pollution has devastating consequences on a global scale, with marginalized communities among the most affected, Boyd, a professor of law, policy and sustainability at the University of British Columbia, said the problem has been overlooked in many places.
That’s in part because the most visible air pollution often has been cleaned up, leaving behind pollution that is harder to see and so easier to ignore.
“We’ve addressed some types of air pollution in some places, and so a lot of the air pollution that we’re dealing with today you can’t really smell it, you can’t see it. It’s these really microscopic particles that people are inhaling into their lungs,” he said.
But in the past 15 years, doctors and scientists have made strides in discovering how harmful air pollution can be to health, with it leading to problems from heart diseases and lung cancer to neurological disorders including Alzheimers.