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WHO: Cut Climate Pollutants, Save Lives

An Indonesian soldier drags a hose while fighting a peatland fire in Ogan Ilir, South Sumatra province on the island of Sumatra, Sept. 30, 2015.

An Indonesian soldier drags a hose while fighting a peatland fire in Ogan Ilir, South Sumatra province on the island of Sumatra, Sept. 30, 2015.

Reducing some climate pollutants could save millions of lives, says a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Gases, like soot, or black carbon, methane and the ozone in city smog, are called “short-lived climate pollutants.” Not only do they contribute to climate change, but they can cause ill health.

WHO says emissions from these climate pollutants cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. These include heart disease, pulmonary disease, respiratory infections and lung cancer.

The WHO says these pollutants are responsible for many of the more than 7 million premature deaths each year that are connected to air pollution.

The UN health group also says the pollutants can decrease agricultural crops. These pollutants exist both outdoors and indoors.

WHO Environment Chief Maria Neira says the pollutants have a strong impact on climate change. She says the good news is that they only stay in the atmosphere for a few days to 10 years. That is much shorter than carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, that can remain for hundreds, or even thousands, of years.

”The fact that they are short-lived pollutants, when you address them, you can reduce emissions very rapidly, and then improve both air quality as well as slowing the rate of near term climate change. You will have an immediate reduction in the ill-health and diseases caused by the reduction of air pollution.”

WHO has a number of available and affordable ways to mitigate these short-lived climate pollutants. At the top of their list: cutting vehicle emissions by requiring higher emissions and efficiency standards. More emissions are released when engines are running.

Indoor air pollution also contributes to bad health and premature death. The WHO reports that nearly 3 billion low-income households rely on “dirty fuels.” Coal, wood and kerosene used for cooking and heating are examples. They say cleaner and more efficient stove and fuel alternatives could cut down on the health risks.

Another way they say to cut back on these pollutants is to have more investments and policies for rapid transit. These include buses, trains, bicycles and pedestrian, or walking routes. They say these investments could have many benefits, including safer travel, reduced health risks from noise and air pollution and more physical activity.

The WHO report also calls for encouraging high- and middle-income populations to include more plant-based foods in their diets. It says this could reduce heart disease and some cancers. It could also slow the methane gas production that comes with some animal-sourced foods.

I’m Anne Ball.

Lisa Schlein reported on this story for Anne Ball adapted this story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.


Words in This Story

cardiovascular adj. involving the heart and blood vessels

respiratory adj. having to do with breathing

premature – adj. early, before a normal time

mitigate v. causing something to be less harsh

emission n. act of producing or sending something from a source

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