Governments are increasingly adopting policies on air quality, but significant gaps hinder global progress towards cleaner air

by Team Conscious Carma

Nairobi, 7 September 2021 – A global review of policies and programmes to improve air quality shows that over the past five years more countries have adopted policies on all major polluting sectors. Yet large gaps in implementation, financing, capacity, and monitoring mean that air pollution levels remain high. This data is published today, the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, in a new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

The report, Actions on air quality: a global summary of policies and programmes to reduce air pollution, is based on recent survey data from 195 countries. It assesses policies and programmes in key sectors that contribute to air pollution: transportation, power generation, industrial emissions, solid waste management, household air pollution, and agriculture. It also looks at air quality monitoring, air quality management and air quality standards as key policy instruments to mitigate the impacts of air pollution.

As of 2020, 124 countries (about two-thirds) were found to have national ambient air quality standards, 17 more than reported in 2016. However, only 9% of these adhere to the limits established by the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

The report finds that although low-income countries suffer more from air pollution, actions to reduce air pollution have multiple development benefits, including climate mitigation, agricultural productivity, energy security, and economic growth.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, said: “When governments act on air quality, they help prevent seven million premature deaths annually. They also improve the overall health and economic well-being of 92% of the world population that lives where air quality levels exceed World Health Organization (WHO) limits. Today, we have more policies in place than ever before, but it is absolutely critical that we focus on implementation, especially where people are disproportionately affected by poor air quality.”


Since 2016, when UNEP began tracking government actions on air quality, there have been improvements from industrial emissions, transportation, solid waste management, and household air pollution. For the first time, the report also reviews current policies and programmes on agriculture, air quality management and standards:

  • Since 2016,18 more countries have added new vehicle emission standards equivalent to Euro 4/IV or higherbringing the total to 71 countries. Despite most low-income countries still lacking regulations for emission standards of imported used vehicles, a growing number of national regulations are emerging to reduce the maximum age of imported vehicles and incentivize citizens to get rid of old polluting vehicles. For example, Morocco only permits the import of vehicles less than five years old and those meeting the EURO4 European vehicles emission standard; as a result, it receives only relatively advanced and clean used vehicles from Europe, in line with UNEP’s recommendations;
  • 21 more countries have adopted policies for cleaner production bringing the total number of countries to 108;
  • 95 countries have programmes promoting clean cooking and heating, with 13 new countries compared to 2016. This has led to lower rates of diseases born from household air pollution, mostly in South and East Asia and the Pacific;
  • Though it remains a widespread phenomenon, 26 more countries now strictly regulate burning of solid waste (bringing the total to 38 countries), including landfill gas capture, improved collection, the separation of waste and sound disposal methods;
  • 58 countries have incentives in place to promote sustainable agriculture, and in deploying effective ways to mitigate methane emissions, including alternatives to open burning of agricultural residues, improved livestock manure management, composting to reduce food waste, and using methane capture for energy use;
  • Yet among the 124 countries with air quality standards, only 57 continuously monitor air qualitywhile 104 countries have no monitoring infrastructure in place. Thisreflects existing data gaps and capacity issues that hinder global progress on air quality.

Despite new clean air policies in countries worldwide and the steady decline of the burden of disease from household air pollution in some regions, health statistics suggest that ambient and indoor air pollution remain a leading global health risk factor. To improve air quality, there would need to be better enforcement of existing policies and regulations, more substantial financing, and more widespread monitoring and stronger capacities.

UNEP is calling on countries to incorporate investments in air pollution clean-up into their post-COVID-19 recovery plans. It is also calling for setting benchmarks to assess current and future actions towards cleaner air and to remove barriers in the implementation of policies and programmes, including financing and capacity gaps, and to overcome affordability and maintenance challenges of monitoring equipment.

The Actions on air quality: a global summary of policies and programmes to reduce air pollution report is complemented by regional report summaries (from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America and West Asia) documenting more in-depth actions in key sectors, as well as regional trends and priorities. UNEP will build on the findings of this report and continue using input from member states to track progress on action to improve air quality and inform efforts to address gaps and challenges globally.

About the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies

Emphasizing the need to make further efforts to improve air quality, including reducing air pollution, to protect human health; acknowledging that improving air quality can enhance climate change mitigation and that climate change mitigation efforts can improve air quality; the United Nationals General Assembly decided to designate 7 September as the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies.

About the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

You may also like

Leave a Comment