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Reducing fine particulate matter could save millions of lives

A study recently published in the magazine Environmental Science and Technology suggests that a strong global programme to mitigate fine particulate matter (PM2.5) or “respirable particles” — a major component of outdoor air pollution — could avoid as many as 750,000 deaths annually in the world.  For North America and Europe, even modest improvements in air quality would represent a significant number of lives saved each year. In other more heavily polluted regions, major reductions in air pollution would be needed to lower mortality from respirable particles.

While in general reducing PM2.5 in already relatively clean regions may have large health benefits, in some locations mitigation of local sources of air pollution may not be enough since a significant proportion of air pollution is made up of “imported” PM2.5, which can travel long distances. International cooperation is therefore crucial to reduce transboundary air pollution.

Responding to this need, the Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone (Gothenburg Protocol) under the UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (Air Convention), as revised in 2012, includes national emission reduction commitments for main air pollutants to be achieved in 2020 and beyond. It also includes — for the first time — emission reduction targets for PM2.5. The revised Gothenburg Protocol is thus an important tool to significantly improve air quality across the UNECE region and reduce health risks to its citizens.