Large cargo vessels parked right outside the Port of Singapore seen from Sentosa Island with industrial Bukom Island in the background, circa 2014 (Image by Jakub Buza / Shutterstock)

UN expert urges countries around the world to fulfill human rights obligations by combating air pollution

Ahead of World Environment Day on 5 June, an independent UN expert has urged countries around the globe to beat air pollution to fulfill their human rights obligations.

The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment David Boyd said, “Air pollution is a silent, invisible and prolific killer that is responsible for the premature death of 7 million people each year, disproportionately affecting women, children and poor communities.”

“Failing to ensure clean air constitutes a violation of the rights to life, health and well-being, as well as the right to live in a healthy environment. States must take urgent action to improve air quality to fulfill their human rights obligations.”

Boyd added that a core component of the right to a healthy environment is clean air together with clean water and adequate sanitation, healthy and sustainably produced food, non-toxic environment, healthy biodiversity and a safe climate.

“The right to a healthy environment is fundamental to human well-being and is legally recognised by over 150 States at the national and regional levels. It should be globally reaffirmed to ensure the enjoyment of this right by everyone, everywhere while upholding the human rights principles of universality and non-discrimination,” he added.

“There are numerous success stories of drastically reducing air pollution from across the world including China, who is hosting World Environment Day this year. These stories prove that air pollution is a preventable problem.”

Mr Boyd reiterated seven key steps from his recent UN Human Rights Council report that countries must take:

  • monitor air quality and impacts on human health;
  • assess sources of air pollution;
  • make information publicly available, including public health advisories;
  • establish air quality legislation, regulations, standards and policies;
  • develop air quality action plans at the local, national and, if necessary, regional levels;
  • implement the air quality action plan and enforce the standards; and
  • evaluate progress and, if necessary, strengthen the plan to ensure that the standards are met.

“In celebration of World Environment Day, I urge States to take bold action to beat air pollution, improve health, address climate change and fulfill their human rights obligations,” the expert said.

Singapore’s air quality

Accoriding to the National Evironment Agency (NEA), Singapore enjoys better air quality than many cities in Asia. In fact, the air quality here is comparable with that of cities in the United States and Europe. The NEA notes that Singapore’s Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) has remained in the ‘Good’ and ‘Moderate’ range for much of 2017.

However, the 2017 survey by ECA International showed that Singapore’s lead for most-liveable city for Asian expats is narrowing due to worsening air pollution. While not the worse, Singapore’s air quality is not as great when compared to other cities like Tokyo, Manila or many cities in the US and Europe.