By Junior Mike Wejuli
Air pollution is one of the major environmental problems that affects the quality of life and health of millions of people around the world, especially in urban areas. Air pollution refers to the presence of harmful substances in the atmosphere, such as particulate matter (PM), ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and heavy metals.
These pollutants can originate from various sources, such as vehicles, industries, power plants, biomass burning, and household activities. Air pollution can also be influenced by meteorological factors, such as temperature, humidity, wind, and precipitation, as well as by topographical features, such as mountains and valleys.
Air pollution has significant impacts on both public health and climate change. Exposure to air pollution can cause various acute and chronic diseases, such as respiratory infections, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, diabetes, and neurological disorders.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is responsible for an estimated 7 million premature deaths per year globally, making it the largest single environmental risk factor for mortality.
It also contributes to the global burden of disease, measured by disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), which is a metric that combines years of life lost due to premature death and years lived with disability. The WHO ranks it as fourth among the risk factors after dietary risks, high blood pressure, and tobacco use.
Air pollution also affects the climate system, by altering the radiative balance of the earth, modifying the hydrological cycle, and changing the atmospheric chemistry. Some air pollutants, such as CO2, methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O), are greenhouse gases (GHGs) that trap heat in the atmosphere and cause global warming. Other air pollutants, such as PM and O3, are short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) that have a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere but a higher warming potential than CO2.
PM can also affect the climate by scattering and absorbing solar radiation, changing the albedo and brightness of clouds, and influencing the formation and precipitation of rain and snow. Ozone can also affect the climate by reducing the photosynthesis and growth of plants, which reduces the uptake of CO2 and the production of oxygen. The impacts of air pollution on climate change can have feedback effects on air quality, as higher temperatures can increase the formation of O3 and PM, and changes in precipitation can affect the removal and transport of pollutants.
The roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders in addressing the problem of air pollution are crucial for achieving sustainable development and improving human well-being. The stakeholders include governments, international organizations, civil society, private sector, academia, media, and individuals. Governments have the primary responsibility of setting and enforcing air quality standards, regulations, and policies, as well as monitoring and reporting air pollution levels and trends.
International organizations, such as the WHO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the IPCC, can provide scientific guidance, technical assistance, and financial support to governments and other stakeholders, as well as facilitate international cooperation and coordination on air pollution issues.
Civil society, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community groups, and advocacy groups, can raise awareness, mobilize action, and hold governments and corporations accountable for their actions and commitments on air pollution. Private sector, such as industries, businesses, and investors, can adopt cleaner technologies, practices, and products, as well as invest in innovation and research on air pollution solutions.
Academia, such as universities, research institutes, and think tanks, can generate and disseminate knowledge, evidence, and data on air pollution, as well as train and educate the next generation of experts and leaders on air pollution. Media, such as newspapers, television, radio, and social media, can inform and educate the public, as well as influence public opinion and policy on air pollution.
Individuals, such as citizens, consumers, and workers, can take personal actions to reduce their exposure and contribution to air pollution, such as using public transportation, walking, cycling, carpooling, switching to renewable energy sources, avoiding open burning, and wearing masks.
In conclusion, air pollution is a serious and complex problem that poses a threat to public health and climate change. It requires a holistic and integrated approach that involves multiple stakeholders and sectors, as well as a combination of mitigation and adaptation measures. By working together, we can achieve cleaner air, healthier lives, and a safer climate for ourselves and future generations.