Nebo newsletter

Clearing the air for a sustainable future

Limiting air pollution is becoming increasingly important for human health, not only because of its direct effects, but also for environmental reasons to create a cleaner and more sustainable future. Implementing policies to do so is often seen as a trade-off between protecting health and protecting the economy, creating a tension that seems intractable, but this dichotomy may be false. However, the World Bank report describes a notable inefficiency in tackling air pollution, with countries often focusing on the wrong sources, the wrong pollutants or the wrong policies.

Overall, the 63 countries included in the World Bank report spend a total of $220 billion annually - 0.6 percent of their combined gross domestic product - to combat air pollution, preventing 1.9 million premature deaths. A recent systematic review published in The Lancet Public Health shows that the introduction of low-emission zones in densely populated cities in Germany, the UK and Japan has resulted in notable health benefits, particularly reductions in cardiovascular disease.

Many areas lack alternative modes of transportation such as public transit, cycling, and walking infrastructure. Electric vehicle subsidies and the availability of charging stations are insufficient to incentivize a shift away from fossil fuel vehicles.

Thoughtful reforms can help garner support from a broader alliance of stakeholders. Only by putting the needs of communities at the heart of policy can policymakers ensure that strategies implemented to reduce air pollution are inclusive, sustainable and prioritize the lives and livelihoods of everyone.

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