The impact of air pollution on children worldwide

Date: 15th November 2016
Category: Disability, Basic Health and Welfare

Some 300 million children in the world are living in areas with outdoor air so toxic - six or more times higher than international pollution guidelines - that it can cause serious health damage, including harming their developing brains, according to a new UNICEF report.

Using satellite imagery, the report shows that around two billion children live in areas where outdoor air pollution, caused by factors such as vehicle emissions, heavy use of fossil fuels, dust and burning of waste, exceeds minimum air quality guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO). Children are more susceptible than adults to both indoor and outdoor air pollution as their lungs, brains and immune systems are still developing and their respiratory tracts are more permeable. The report comes ahead of the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakesh, Morocco.

The report also notes that air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under age 5 every year and threatens the health, lives and futures of millions more. It concludes with a set of concrete steps to take so that children can breathe clean, safe air.

UN Committee Recommendations and context in Scotland

In June 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issued the following recommendation to the UK state party to:

"Set out a clear legal commitment, with appropriate technical, human and financial resources, to scale up and expedite the implementation of plans to reduce air pollution levels, especially in areas near schools and residential areas."

Scottish Government currently monitors the air quality of Scotland and reports on pollutant trends, the impact of pollutants, and various other factors. Air quality is currently a devolved issue and the development of air quality policy and legislation is undertaken by the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government published a national air quality strategy in November 2015 entitled 'Cleaner Air for Scotland: The Road to a Healthier Future' which outlines a National Modelling Framework (NMF), which will provide a standard air quality assessment methodology for use across Scotland and a National Low Emission Framework (NLEF).

Owing to the 'transboundary nature' of air pollutants, the 2000 Air Quality Strategy and subsequent UK Government air quality documents are produced as a joint UK Government and devolved administrations publication. The most recent Strategy, produced in 2007, discusses children and schools only in the context of the Smarter Choices travel to school scheme and does not address the level of air pollution around schools and other public spaces that children use regularly. Scottish Government has funded schemes to create 20mph zones around primary schools and some local authorities have imposed parking restrictions on roads in the vicinity of schools at the start and end of the school day. Scottish Government also funded Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and North Lanarkshire Council, in consultation with Education Scotland, to produce an air quality teaching package for both primary and secondary schools, designed to encourage pupils to think about air quality and how it affects them and their families. Through this project, schools can also access an air quality sensor to record air quality data from around their school.

Together have made Scotland-specific recommendations regarding air pollution in its newly-published State of Children's Rights report 2016.