Historic 20th meeting of the Joint Task Force on the Health Aspects of Air Pollution

In 1998, the Joint Task Force on the Health Aspects of Air Pollution was established within the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP). Its purpose is to evaluate and assess the health effects of such pollution and to provide necessary information and evidence in the field. On 16–17 May 2017, the 20th meeting of the Task Force will take place in Bonn, Germany.

Since its establishment, the Task Force has continuously contributed to the work of the bodies of, and parties to, the CLRTAP by:

  • collating and assessing available knowledge and data;
  • identifying and collecting additional information and data needed for further assessment;
  • quantifying the contribution of long-range transboundary air pollution to human health risks; and
  • defining priorities that may serve as a guide for monitoring and abatement strategies.

The 20th meeting of the Task Force recognizes the sustainability of this intersectoral and multistakeholder process. By mobilizing the health and environment sectors to work together with the UNECE, Member State representatives, the European Commission, civil society and academia, the Task Force is helping to effectively tackle the issue of air pollution.

Although the Task Force originated within an environmental convention, it puts human health at the centre of its work. As such, it has proven to be an efficient platform for discussing and promoting these issues in the WHO European Region, alongside the pillars of evidence, communication, policy development and capacity-building.

Providing a solid evidence base for health policy

Over the past 3 decades of the CLRTAP, traditional environmental concerns have gradually shifted towards a stronger health perspective. The Task Force has driven this change by disseminating evidence in a series of health assessment reports by pollutant: persistent organic pollutants, particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, heavy metals and black carbon.

These reports strongly contributed to the global update of the WHO air quality guidelines in 2005, and to the amendment of the 1999 Gothenburg Protocol in 2012. The Task Force also contributed to the 2016 CLRTAP scientific assessment report “Towards cleaner air” with the aim of providing a basis for considering new directions for policy development and identifying policy-relevant research questions.

As Chair of the Task Force, WHO/Europe coordinated the international project “Review of evidence on the health aspects of air pollution” through its European Centre for Environment and Health in 2011–2013. The project provided the European Commission and its stakeholders, including the Task Force, with evidence-based advice on the health aspects of air pollution for the revision of European air policy.

These activities also contributed to policy frameworks, such as the 2015 World Health Assembly resolution WHA68.8 on “addressing the health impact of air pollution”, and to air quality topping the agenda at the 8th Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference in Batumi, Georgia, in 2016. As a leading environmental determinant of ill health, air pollution will again be a priority area at the upcoming 6th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in June 2017.

Work of the Task Force continues

The Task Force will continue to contribute scientific evidence and best practices to improve air quality in the Region. Complementing this activity, WHO recently initiated the process of updating the 2005 air quality guidelines. The updated version will consider scientific information published since the last revision, including on associations between some pollutants and adverse health effects at exposure levels lower than previously identified.