• Recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has released new Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs). Under these guidelines, WHO has further lowered the recommended levels of pollutants that can be considered safe for human health.
  • This is the first-ever update of WHO since 2005. The goal of the guideline is for all countries to achieve recommended air quality levels.

Important points:

  • The guidelines recommend new air quality levels to protect the health of populations, by reducing levels of key air pollutants, some of which also contribute to climate change.
  • By striving to achieve these guideline levels, countries will be both protecting health as well as mitigating global climate change.
  • WHO move sets the stage for eventual shifts in policy in the government towards evolving newer stricter standards.
  • WHO’s new guidelines recommend air quality levels for 6 pollutants, where evidence has advanced the most on health effects from exposure.
  • 6 classical pollutants include particulate matter (PM 2.5 and 10), ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon monoxide (CO).

Impact on India:

  • The new air quality guidelines mean that nearly entire India would be considered a polluted zone for most of the year.
  • However, by WHO’s own admission, more than 90% of the world’s population lived in areas which did not meet its 2005 pollution standards.
  • The new WHO norms should push India to work harder to make its air cleaner and safer.
  • Further, the feasibility of implementing the new guidelines is questionable, especially in challenging geo-climatic zones like south Asia, including India.
  • Experts point out that this region has challenging meteorological and climatic conditions, with the added challenge of haze columns, heat island effects and very high base pollution.
  • However, as the WHO’s guidelines are not binding, the move doesn’t immediately impact India as the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) don’t meet the WHO’s existing standards.
  • The government has a dedicated National Clean Air Programme that 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.

Way Forward

  • Given the condition of the Air Pollution in India, there is a need to strengthen health data and revise National ambient air quality standards accordingly.
  • Further, the hard lockdown phases during the pandemic have demonstrated the dramatic reduction that is possible when local pollution and regional influences can be minimised.


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