The UN World Health Organization (WHO) has issued new global air quality guidelines (AQGs) that reduce levels of key air pollutants, some of which also contribute to climate change.

Since the agency’s last global update in 2005, there has been a marked increase of evidence that shows how air pollution affects different aspects of health. Exposure to air pollution is estimated to cause 7 million premature deaths annually and result in the loss of millions more healthy years of life. After a systematic review of the accumulated evidence, WHO has adjusted almost all the AQGs levels downward and warns that exceeding the revised levels is associated with significant health risks.

The new guidelines recommend air quality levels for particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide. The goal of the guidelines is for all countries to achieve recommended air quality levels. Recognizing that this will be difficult for many countries and regions struggling with high air pollution levels, WHO has proposed interim targets to facilitate stepwise improvement in air quality and thus gradual but meaningful health benefits for the population.

Watch the September 22, 2021, live launch of the strengthened AQGs.

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