Pollution, Climate and Health workshop

More than 90% of the world´s children breathe toxic air every day and the climate crisis cause unacceptable health effects. Now is the time for action and societal transformation.

In the latest edition of its Global Risks Report, the World Economic Forum ranks environmental threats at the top of the list both in terms of impact and likelihood. The report states that “of all risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe”.

Across the world current trends in climate change impacts, exposures, and vulnerabilities show unacceptably high risks for population health. Climate change not only leads to direct health effects due to heatwaves, draughts, storms and floods, but also to indirect effects related to e.g. land use change and water quality. In addition, the social dynamics are affected since public health infrastructure is threatened and the consequences may lead to conflicts and migration. The situation is furthermore highly unfair since the world´s richest countries are the most responsible for the climate crisis whereas the poorest countries are the ones most affected.


In addition to the climate crisis, air pollution is an ongoing “silent killer” estimated to cause about 6.5 million deaths annually – 1 in 9 deaths worldwide. Air pollution not only substantially contributes to the four top non-communicable diseases – stroke, lung cancer, chronic respiratory disease and heart disease –but is also responsible for 50% of childhood pneumonia deaths. There is also a relationship between air pollution, high temperatures and mortality in urban areas. Sources of air pollution include transport, waste burning, agriculture, industry, power production and forest fires. A main contributor to health effects worldwide is household air pollution due to smoke from inefficient cooking stove technologies and fuels.


Pollution worldwide also include millions of tonnes of plastic waste that enter the ocean every year and widespread exposure to a mix of chemicals. If production and consumption continue as now with mainly the linear economic model of “take-make-dispose” the planet will be even more polluted, affecting current and future generations.


To handle the situation leadership is needed and as UN secretary-General António Guterres recently said “Every day we fail to act is a day we step a little bit closer towards a fate that none of us want…” (see below). The list of solutions is long and includes e.g. the transition to cleaner fuels, better batteries, changes in food production and sustainable consumption and production through improved resource efficiency and lifestyle changes.

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Further reading

Academic Conferences - universities in cooperation | Karolinska Institutet, SLU and Uppsala University
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