1 in 3 countries have no outdoor air quality requirements: UN report

1 in 3 countries have no outdoor air quality requirements: UN report
© (Максим Шмаков/iStock)

One-third of countries worldwide have no standards in place for clean air in outdoor spaces, according to a report released Thursday by the United Nations.

The analysis by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) examined laws on the books in 194 countries and the European Union and found that 66 percent of countries have mandates in some form. The report also noted that while there are some regional air quality frameworks, there is no single international air quality apparatus.

“There will be no jab to prevent seven million premature deaths caused by air pollution each year, a number poised to grow by more than 50% by 2050,” Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, said in a statement. “The air we breathe is a fundamental public good, and governments must do more to ensure it is clean and safe.”

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The process for implementing a new standard varies widely by country, according to the report. For example, in Chile, the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that a 20-year-old air quality standard could not be withdrawn without a full policymaking process, and a 2013 ministerial decree establishing new standards could not be enacted.

The majority of national air quality laws feature standards that are not aligned with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, the UNEP said. The reasons for the misalignments vary; in some cases, it indicates a commitment to improve their standards, but in other cases, the report attributes it to shielding pollution-heavy industries from regulation.

The report notes that determining alignment with WHO guidelines can be difficult in and of itself.

Air quality standards “are generally designed as concentration-based standards, but their stringency is affected by design features such as geographical coverage, the air quality metric adopted, the time frame for compliance, allowed margins of tolerance and other kinds of derogations,” the report said.

The report comes as a season of extreme wildfires has made air quality particularly relevant in the United States. Last week, Nevada's Washoe County reported an air quality index of 289, in the "very unhealthy" range.