Air Pollution Kills 13 People Every Minute, According to the World Health
The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we think about clean air. Researchers at Harvard University found that people who live in polluted areas are 15 percent more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who do not. Many of the root causes of climate change also increase the risk of pandemics. As a result, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for governments to follow 10 climate and health recommendations to ensure the world recovers from the impacts of COVID-19.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the intimate and delicate links between humans, animals, and our environment,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, WHO Director-General, in a press release. “The same unsustainable choices that are killing our planet are killing people. The WHO calls on all countries to commit to decisive action at [the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference] to limit global warming to 1.5°C—not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s in our own interests. The WHO’s new report highlights 10 priorities for safeguarding the health of people and the planet that sustains us.”
10 Climate and Health Recommendations from the World Health Organization
1. Commit to a healthy recovery
First, the WHO wants countries to “commit to a healthy, green, and just recovery from COVID-19.”
“It has never been clearer that the climate crisis is one of the most urgent health emergencies we all face,” said Maria Neira, MD, MPH, WHO director of environment, climate change, and health in a press release. “Bringing down air pollution to WHO guideline levels, for example, would reduce the total number of global deaths from air pollution by 80 percent while dramatically reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change.”
2. Prioritize health and social justice
“Our health is not negotiable,” says the WHO. “Place health and social justice at the heart of the UN climate talks.” Social justice and health are inextricably linked. The conditions in the environments we live in are known as the social determinants of health, include economic stability, education access and quality, health care access and quality, neighborhood and built environment, and social and community context. Taking steps to increase equity directly impacts these determinants, and thus, health outcomes.
3. Harness the health benefits of climate action
Though climate change can sometimes feel intangible, fighting climate change can have clear health impacts. For example, researchers at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry found that people who experienced chronic exposure to hazardous air pollution died from COVID-19 at a rate that’s 9 percent higher than those who didn’t. So decreasing air pollution allows people to better fight airborne viruses like the one that causes COVID-19. The WHO recommends that countries “prioritize…