New WHO guidelines on air pollution – what’s their meaning?

By reducing the recommended heights, existing laws come under pressure – or at least are being questioned. While the European Air Pollution Control Directive largely complied with the previous WHO recommendations from 2005, gaps are now apparent. The EU has already announced a revision and launched the corresponding consultation.

Why now?

The new WHO recommendations are based on the latest scientific findings on the links between polluted air and disease. In a scenario analysis, for.B example, it was determined that 66% of premature deaths caused by particulate matter (PM2.5) in Europe in 2016 could have been prevented if the now valid guideline value had been reached at that time. That’s more than 300,000 preventable deaths in Europe.

What’s different?

In addition to tightening the guideline values, the WHO has now also published interim targets on the way to the lower values. However, two qualitative  statements in the publication are even more severe:

  1. The WHO clearly spells out the link between climate protection and air pollution control.
  2. Regardless of the absolute level, a change in air quality always has a demonstrable effect on health – even at already lower values. The WHO stresses the importance of improving air quality even at already low levels and calls on legislation to replace or supplement rigid limit values with a dynamic incentive system.

Against this background, stricter legislation concerning limit values is expected, and a change in how compliance with the legal requirements has to be proven. A purely retrospective comparison of the values as before may then no longer be sufficient. Three aspects will be decisive:

  1. Coverage
  2. Measurement accuracy
  3. Relevance of the data to action.
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