Outdoor (ambient) air quality standards are not legally mandated in one-third of the world’s countries. Where such laws exist, standards vary widely and frequently do not correspond to WHO criteria.
Furthermore, at least 31% of countries with the authority to impose such ambient air quality standards have yet to do so. These are some of the key conclusions of the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) first-ever study of air quality legislation and regulations, which was released on Thursday.
Regulating Air Quality: Ahead of the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, the first worldwide review of air pollution law is released, which looks at national air quality legislation in 194 countries and the European Union.
The research analyses the efficiency of several aspects of legislative and institutional frameworks in ensuring air quality standards. The research closes with critical aspects for a strong air quality governance model that can be included in national legislation. It creates a case for thinking about a global agreement on air quality standards.
The World Health Organization has identified air pollution as the single most serious environmental health threat, with 92 per cent of the world’s population living in areas where air pollution levels exceed safe levels, disproportionately affecting women, children, and the elderly in low-income countries. According to recent research, there may be a link between COVID-19 health effects and air pollution.
The WHO has provided recommended values for ambient air quality, but as the paper demonstrates, there is no worldwide agreement or legal basis for their implementation.
Ambient air quality is not currently legally protected in at least 34% of nations. Standards are difficult to compare even when they are formally adopted: Over half of countries accept variances from air quality requirements, while 49 per cent of countries identify air pollution solely as an outdoor threat. Geographic coverage of air quality standards varies.
Furthermore, just 33% of countries impose requirements to satisfy legally mandated standards, indicating that institutional responsibility for achieving standards is lacking globally.
Monitoring is crucial for understanding whether requirements are being met, although it is not legally obligatory in at least 37% of nations. Finally, despite the fact that air pollution recognizes no boundaries, only 31% of countries have legal procedures in place to combat cross-border air pollution.
The right to a healthy environment, which includes clean air, is a prerequisite for attaining Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals on good health, cheap and clean energy, sustainable cities, responsible production, and life on Earth (SDGs 3, 7, 11, 12, and 15).
The 5th UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) called on the Member States to act across sectors to minimise all types of air pollution during its first session.
According to Professor Eloise Scotford, who co-authored the research, “even the most admirable national air quality objectives must be supported with strong institutional frameworks, implementation capacity, and well-coordinated laws if they are to be effective.”
More countries should adopt strict air quality laws, according to the report. Setting ambitious legal standards for indoor and ambient air pollution, improving legal mechanisms for air quality monitoring, increasing transparency, significantly improving enforcement systems, and improving policy and regulatory coordination for both national and transboundary air pollution are all part of these laws.
Following this assessment, UNEP has already developed practical recommendations as part of the Montevideo Environmental Law Program to help countries deal with the air pollution crisis.
Direct technical assistance to countries establishing and implementing air pollution law frameworks is also being considered, as well as complementary capacity-building for stakeholders such as judges, prosecutors, and other enforcement authorities.