The World Health Organization (WHO) has released its list of top 10 threats to global health in 2019. Topping the list is air pollution and climate change. It is considered by WHO as the greatest environmental risk to health.

As the world gets hotter and more crowded, there is an increasing demand for vehicles and power generation. In the meantime, our air is growing dangerously polluted as more engines continue to pump out dirty emission. WHO estimates 9 out of 10 people now is breathing polluted air, which kills 7 million people every year. From the State of Global Air report 2018, China and India accounted for more than 50% of global air pollution deaths.

Video source: WHO

Worldwide ambient air pollution is estimated to cause:

  • 29% of all deaths and disease from lung cancer
  • 17% of all deaths and disease from acute lower respiratory infection
  • 24% of all deaths of stroke
  • 25% of all deaths and disease from ischaemic heart disease
  • 43% of all deaths and disease from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease


Its deadliest weapons are invisible poisonous particles that can be small as a molecule. Those are a cocktail of microscopic airborne pollutants less than 10 and 2.5 microns in diameter, well known as fine particular matters – PM10 and PM2.5. PM affects more people than any other pollutants because it can penetrate deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, damaging our lungs, heart and brain.

In recent years, more studies have shown an association between air pollution and the increasing risk of many health problems, including asthma attack, dementia, neurobehavioral disorders, birth defects, immune system defects, premature death, and miscarriage.

Improving Air Quality, Fighting Climate Change

Air pollution is also closely linked to climate change. As the main driver of climate change is fossil fuel combustion which is also a major contributor to air pollution – and efforts to mitigate one can improve the other.

WHO released a quantitative assessment of the health impacts of climate change in 2014. It concludes, between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.

Air pollution and climate change issues are hard to escape as their impacts are beyond national boundaries. The underprivileged countries could be seriously suffered most but high-income countries and well-developed cities are the victims as well.

Video source: WHO (2016)


Pollution in Hong Kong

The pollution problem in Hong Kong is facing a dilemma. The general air quality did not have any significant improvement last year. The level of hazardous ozone has just hit the record high in two decades and the concentration of PM10 has increased over the past few years. Although a new set of proposed Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) has proposed by the government and expected to come into effect in 2020, the new concentration limits are still lagging behind the safety standards established by WHO.

We are still breathing unhealthy air every day. A tighten air quality benchmarks and clean air act enforcement is urgently needed to protect public health. The government has the responsibility of making a substantial effort on clean transport and efficient energy production to lower pollution levels and help save lives.

Story posted on
28th Feb, 2019


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