Speech - Side event “Clean air for life” at the Eighth Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference
Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe
9 June 2016, Batumi, Georgia
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
I wish to congratulate the organizers of this event for bringing together key stakeholders and Member States, highlighting the value and necessity of strong partnerships to effectively address air pollution.
Let's make no mistake: this is the single biggest environmental risk to health, responsible for the premature death of 600 000 people per year in the WHO European Region, and of 7 million globally. The link between air pollution and noncommunicable diseases, such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and cancer, is now clear and undisputable. When a quarter of the global burden of ischaemic heart diseases is attributable to air pollution, the response cannot be limited to promoting healthier individual behaviours. People cannot choose the air they breathe; it is a societal responsibility to put in place the policies and actions that can address the root causes of air pollution across different sectors.
Let's also not forget that the economic cost of the health effects of air pollution are enormous: 1.6 trillion US dollars per year, as our WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, working in partnership with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, estimated last year.
Clearly, the commitments taken over the past 35 years, when the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution was signed, the improved understanding of the links between air pollution and climate change, the important technological developments, the ever-growing body of scientific evidence, and the many partnerships that have been forged over time have not yet completely solved this complex problem.
This "unfinished business" calls for air pollution to remain firmly on top of the policy agenda, globally and in Europe. I am just back from the World Health Assembly, which every year gathers the ministries of health to discuss the global health priorities and agenda. I was heartened by the great support with which Member States welcomed a new roadmap that will guide the implementation of the World Health Assembly Resolution on air pollution and health adopted last year. The roadmap will also guide the development of sustained, effective, coherent and well-coordinated multisectoral action across all levels of government, from the global to the urban level, with the involvement of all societal actors.
This Conference, with the expected adoption of the Batumi Action for Cleaner Air, is an important milestone. The next milestone on this political trajectory will be the Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health that will take place in 2017. Also for this Conference, which provides a unique regional platform for the environment and health sectors to work together, Member States have identified air quality as a major issue of concern and a key priority to advance the environment and health agenda in the European Region.
The political decisions to be taken at the Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health should provide synergy and continuity to the existing commitments, for example by focusing on strengthening and supporting implementation, and on building the multisectoral partnerships that can deliver change.
We recognize the need to use the best existing platforms, such as the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, to make this happen, and we look forward to continuing our long-standing collaboration with the UNECE within the framework of the Convention.
As the burden of disease from air pollution is not equally distributed, we acknowledge that there are differences across the Region among both Member States and groups in the population. However, important data gaps in the monitoring of both air pollution and health trends still exist in too many countries. This highlights the need for involving different actors and synergizing efforts to make the most of different 'pieces' of information, and for valuing the knowledge and capacities that diverse players can offer.
The WHO Regional Office for Europe is contributing to the improvement of the evidence base for the issue by developing guidelines and tools to assist Member States in addressing the health consequences of air pollution in their respective countries.
In spite of the persisting challenges, I am very encouraged by the existence of effective measures and by the leading examples of sustainable urban transport policies as well as regulations on emissions and on energy sources that have been developed across the Region. The Batumi Commitment to Act is a direct encouragement and an invitation to Member States to take up voluntary commitments and to work together to improve air quality for better health in Europe.
I am looking forward to the outcome of the Eighth Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference and the positive impact it will have on the health of Europeans.
Thanks for your attention.