Global health centre
28 May 2015

Air Pollution and Health: Building a Strong Global Response

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently adopted by consensus a resolution on Air Pollution and Health. Having chaired the working group on the text, I was asked to share a few words on the process and outcome. Both of them, to my mind, demonstrated a strong and shared underlying commitment to the issue, and to the need to tackle air pollution from a health perspective. However, the discussion poses challenges for health authorities at the national level, because the multi-sectoral implications inescapably and strongly involve other sectors. This was clear from the outset, and consequently the text reflects the recognition that it will be a gradual process to build a strong global response to the health impact of air pollution. As facilitators, and in co-authoring the original text, we also wanted to keep a clear focus on the core issue, and to avoid as much as possible importing entanglements from other processes into this one. This, however, proved difficult, and issues that are currently in focus in other multi-lateral processes proved to be challenging also in this one. This included the linkage made to the climate change issue, where expectations and positioning for the upcoming COP in Paris may serve to restrict the scope for discussion of that issue in other processes such as this one. There was also a notable element of discussion around elements that figure prominently in the Financing for Development process, including resource mobilisation and technology transfer. Nevertheless, these obstacles proved possible to overcome, which illustrates both a broad commitment to the issue and the continuing strength of a shared wish for evidence-based consensus in WHO. The next step will now be the development of a roadmap for an enhanced global response to the issue, which will be presented to the 69th World Health Assembly in 2016. This provides member states with an opportunity that should not be missed, to build on the resolution to develop even stronger commitments. By that time we will have the SDG process and the Paris COP behind us, with the clarifications they will bring.


Written by Kjetil Aasland

Minister Counsellor for Global Health Issues
Permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva