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WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines 2021-Impact on health and key changes

WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines- Relevance for UPSC Exam

  • GS Paper 3: Environment- Conservation, environmental pollution, and degradation.

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WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines- Context

  • Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) in its first-ever update since 2005 has tightened global air pollution standards.
  • WHO updated these standards in a recognition of the emerging science in the last decade that suggests the impact of air pollution on health is much more serious than previously envisaged.


WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines- Key Points

  • WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines provide clear evidence of the damage air pollution inflicts on human health, at even lower concentrations than previously understood. Key findings are-
    • In 2019, 99% of the world population was living in places where the WHO air quality guidelines levels were not met.
    • Ambient (outdoor air pollution) in both cities and rural areas was estimated to cause 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide in 2016.
    • Some 91% of those premature deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries and the greatest number in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions.
    • Indoor smoke is a serious health risk for some 3 billion people who cook and heat their homes with biomass, kerosene fuels and coal.
  • WHO recommends new air quality levels to protect the health of populations: This is to be done by reducing levels of key air pollutants from the environment, many of which are also responsible for Global Climate Change.
  • Key Changes: WHO announces limits for six pollutant categories– particulate matter (PM) 2.5 and 10, ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) Sulphur dioxide (SO2) and carbon monoxide (CO).

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Pollutant Averaging Time 2005 (AGQs) 2021 (AGQs)
PM 2.5 Annual and 24 Hour mean 10 and 25 Respectively 5 and 15 Resp.
PM 10 Annual and 24 Hour mean 20 and 50 Resp. 15 and 45 Resp.
Ozone (O3) Peak Season and 8 hours Undefined for peak season and 100 for 8 hours 60 and 100 resp.
NO2 Annual and 24 Hour mean 40 and undefined resp. 10 and 25 resp.
SO2 24 hours 20 40
CO 24 hours Undefined 4


WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines 2021-Impact on health and key changes_3.1

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WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines- Impact on India

  • India’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) don’t meet the WHO’s existing standards, hence, the updated global air pollution standards won’t affect India immediately.
    • Experts say that the WHO move sets the stage for eventual shifts in policy in the government towards evolving newer stricter standards.
  • National Clean Air Program: It aims for a 20% to 30% reduction in particulate matter concentrations by 2024 in 122 cities, keeping 2017 as the base year for the comparison of concentration.
    • These are cities that don’t meet the NAAQS when calculated from 2011-2015.


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