Earth has a “30-year window of opportunity” to tackle climate change, according to World Meteorological Organization (WMO) secretary-general Petteri Taalas. He called for greater urgency in carrying out the Paris Agreement as the leaders of the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) together with WMO launched a brand-new climate change coalition. Every year 12.6 million people perish due to environmental risks — air pollution in particular — and the group aims to lower that number.
Average temperatures in 2017 were 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to the UN, while global average concentrations of carbon dioxide were greater than 400 parts per million (ppm). Taalas said climate change is impacting developing countries — the cost of natural disasters reached a new record in 2017. The three UN organizations already work together, but under the new coalition will strengthen action on guarding health from climate change- and environment-related risks. Taalas, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and UNEP executive director Erik Solheim came together to form the coalition and spoke to delegates at the World Health Assembly about opportunities and challenges to come.
Air pollution is one such challenge. Around seven million people die prematurely each year from diseases related to air pollution, such as respiratory illness, cancer, heart disease, or strokes. According to the UN, in many of the world’s major cities, air pollution is higher than WHO air quality standards. Pollutants which threaten human health also contribute to climate change and damage the environment — examples are waste incineration or black carbon from diesel engines. The UN said lowering what they called short-lived climate pollutant emissions coming from agriculture, traffic, industry, or cookstoves, for example, “could help trim the rate of global warming by about 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.”
Solheim said, “If we speed up on renewable energy solutions, fewer people will die from air pollution. Let’s create a pollution-free environment.”
One of the coalition’s first outcomes will be a Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health, which will take place at WHO Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland from October 30 to November 1.
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