Toxic air pollution: UN rights experts urge tighter rules
Toxic air pollution: UN rights experts urge tighter rules to combat “invisible threat”
GENEVA (24 February 2017) – United Nations human rights experts are calling for strong, urgent action by States, including legislation and enforcement of corporate accountability, to try to ensure that people around the world can enjoy the human right to live in environments free from contamination.
“Air pollution is a major threat to human rights worldwide and toxic air pollutants are associated with an increased risk of disease from stroke, heart disease, cancer and respiratory diseases, including asthma,” the experts said.
Estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO), suggest that three million deaths each year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. There is also growing research evidence indicating that air pollution has become the leading environmental cause of death in the world.
The appeal for better regulation comes from the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, together with his fellow UN experts, Dainius Puras and John H. Knox.*
“Children and people in vulnerable situations, including women of reproductive age, the elderly, those in poor health and those living in less wealthy communities remain the most vulnerable,” the experts warned.
According to UNICEF, 300 million children – almost one in seven of the world’s total, live in areas with the most toxic levels of outdoor air pollution. And the experts stress that paediatricians are referring to the impact on children’s health as a ‘silent pandemic’.
“A threat like this can no longer be ignored,” they say. “States have a duty to prevent and control exposure to toxic air pollution and to protect against its adverse effects on human rights.”
The experts point to an ‘unacceptable’ lack of accountability saying: “Impunity for those responsible for air pollution is rampant today, with recent reports of environmental ministers even denying its effects, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and urgent action is needed now under international human rights standards.
“Cross-border cooperation is necessary to promote the adoption of preventive and control measures in the energy, industrial and transportation sectors”, they emphasized.
“As well as strong and fully implemented legislation, we need investment in infrastructures and long-term incentives. Improving the regulation of toxic emissions from industrial sources and vehicles, strengthening waste management and recycling practices, and promoting renewable energies are crucial steps to effectively address air quality issues and public health,” the experts concluded.