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How to Reduce Air Pollution for Protecting Human Health Globally? An Inspiring Dialogue at the World’s First Transdisciplinary Gathering in Sustainability
published date:2021-07-06


Annually 4.2 million deaths globally are attributed to the exposure to ambient air pollution. Good air quality is thus essential for human health and the environment, and critical to achieve the UN 2030 Sustainability Development Goals. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called to reduce two thirds of the mortality due to air pollution by the year 2030. How to reach this target is a grand challenge to global society, and requires joint efforts by scientists, policymakers, industry, and the public.


On 13 June, Professor ZHU Tong of College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Peking University, and the Chair of the MAIRS-FE Scientific Steering Committee organized a session themed on Air Quality and Human Health to discuss how to translate the science to action for improving air quality and protecting global human health at the Sustainability Research & Innovation Congress 2021 (SRI2021). SRI is a joint initiative of Future Earth and the Belmont Forum, aiming to build a space of fierce advocacy for sustainability scholarship, innovation, collaboration and action. This annual event unites global sustainability leaders, experts, industry, and innovators to inspire action and promote a sustainability transformation.


The well-known experts representing fields of fundamental science, global research initiative and think tank for policymaking gathered to present and discuss on essential and inspiring topics related with air quality and human health, including atmosphere watch and monitoring, trends and change of severe pollution episodes globally, connections between aerosol chemical composition and human health effects, and personal exposure studies etc.


Prof. Greg Carmichael of Iowa University, and the Chairman of the Scientific Steering Committee of WMO-GAW introduced the activities and contributions of the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Global Atmosphere Watch Programme, which demonstrated how to translate research output to public health service. WMO signed a MOU with WHO to develop a joint action plan to link health, environment, and climate change in 2018, to provide scientific basis for policymaking and evidence-based monitoring of pollution via enhancing observations and communication, assessments, and reports.


Prof. Lidia Morawska of Queensland University of Technology shared her recent research findings on global severe pollution events. She explained how severe pollution events occurred and revealed the change of burden across the world. This study found that the frequency, magnitude, and duration of severe air pollution events significantly decreased in Chinese cities due to the clean air effort in China, while deteriorating in Australian cities related with wildfires.


Prof. Frank Kelly of Imperial College showed London’s successful story of cleaning up the air pollution in the past decades by a series of measures to control coal combustion emission and transport sector emission. The science-based policies were developed with the support of air quality research team via monitoring, source apportionment and modeling.

Source: F. Kelly (2021)


Prof. Yinon Rudich of Weizmann Institute presented his laboratory studies enabling to establish connections between aerosol chemical composition and possible health effects. According to the recent research findings, fresh soot particles are less toxic than aged soot particles and PAH-like moieties in the SOA increase the toxicity.


Assistant Professor Jicheng Gong of Peking University discussed how to apply personal exposure studies to appeal the causal relationship between air pollution and human health based on a teamwork with Prof. Junfeng Zhang of Duke University. He mentioned that exposome was considered as the next generation of environment health study approach. In personal exposure studies, either external or internal or both exposure were measured in individual level, instead of stationary or using modelled data, which could provide more concise assessment of exposure to reduce the probability and magnitude of misclassification of exposure.

Source: Fang, Wang, and Gong et al.2021


During the panel discussion, the participating experts made consensus that it was important to link the air quality management with climate change agenda and prioritize the policies and interventions on reducing fossil fuel consumption in the energy generation, transport, and industrial sectors globally. It was also highlighted that the politic will was essential for countries to take necessary action to tackle the air pollution and protect human health, thus public education and awareness rising activities would be meaningful to push the pressure to the government authority and enhance the related politic will.


However, different countries are facing different situation, for those with challenges of development and lack of capability, the international society could play important roles in term of science service supporting, capacity building, experience sharing and advocacy for change. International experts’ technical input for policy development, implementation and assessment will be necessary and valuable. The opinion papers generated based on research findings and workshop discussions should not be circulated ONLY within the research community, but also be provided and communicated with policy makers and public.