It’s been more than a year since the pandemic was declared, and it’s even more clear that many of the root causes of climate change also increase the risk of pandemics. Global warming, deforestation, ecosystems degradation and loss of critical habitats - to name a few amongst many. And there is no question that what we do today will determine how well we handle similar risks and shocks in the future.
And yet air pollution still remains one of the biggest challenges today.
Europe and Central Asia is one of the most carbon intensive regions in the world, with 88 percent of its primary energy supply coming from fossil fuels, significantly contributing to air pollution. The main sources of air pollution arise from burning of fossil fuels in energy production, households, transport, and from industrial and agricultural activities. Although important steps have been made in the last three decades here in the region, with natural gas displacing coal, the direct impact of air pollution on human health is still a challenge that requires more attention.
In 2019 alone, 6.7 million deaths were associated with air pollution, ranking the problem itself as the fourth leading risk factor for death and disability worldwide. WHO has already proven links between air pollution and diseases like asthma, cancer, pulmonary illnesses and heart problems. Recent studies also reveal links to diabetes, neurodevelopmental disorders, and preterm birth to low birth weight.
If we look at the regional figures, the picture is even more alarming.
The following chart gives us a quick snapshot from the region through PM2.5 concentrations. PM2.5 (particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter), is one of the main air pollutants posing the greatest health risk. These fine particles can damage the human respiratory system by penetrating deep into the lung and impairing lung function. This can leave the body and early immune response more vulnerable to various infections – such as Covid-19.
While lockdowns caused global air pollution declines in 2020, the annual mean concentration of PM2.5 still exceeded the WHO recommended value in all of the following capital cities in the region last year.