Saving Lives Must Be Prioritized: Updated WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines Must Transform Data into Action for All

Statement by Sergio Sánchez, Sr. Policy Director, EDF Global Clean Air -- September 22, 2021

September 22, 2021
Cecile Brown, (202) 271-6534,

“The World Health Organization’s update of the global Air Quality Guidelines is an important step forward. Based on the best available science on the health impacts of air pollution, these guidelines represent a vital opportunity for national and local governments to save millions of lives by updating their air quality health standards and decision-making on clean air and public health policies.

“Compared to previous WHO guidelines, some of the updated air quality values are significantly more stringent. For example, the level of annual concentrations for respirable particles PM2.5 was reduced from 10 micrograms to 5 micrograms; also, the annual average concentration for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was dropped from 40 micrograms to 10 micrograms.

“Air pollution is a moral issue that impairs the fundamental human right to breathe clean air and substantially contributes to climate change. The new guidelines should foster a common goal to expand efforts and resources consistent with the magnitude of the challenge, to help the most disadvantaged communities who most suffer the severe impacts of air pollution.

“The lethal toll from air pollution on human health has more than tripled since the 2005 Air Quality Guidelines Global Update was published. Today, air pollution is estimated to cut short the lives of over 6 million people globally every year. And these impacts are not equally distributed with vulnerable communities around the world bearing a heavy burden. 

“In addition to the pain and suffering, poor air quality causes an enormous economic cost.  In recent updates, the World Bank has estimated the annual health costs of PM2.5 pollution in US$8.1 trillion.” 

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Sergio Sánchez is the Senior Policy Director of Global Clean Air for EDF Health, working globally to implement air pollution abatement policies and climate change mitigation strategies. Previously, he served as México’s Vice Minister for Environmental Protection and the Director General for Air Quality Management within México’s Ministry of Environment, as well as Director General for Environmental Projects within the Mexico City Government. He also led the Clean Air Institute as the Executive Director, working all over Latin America for more than a decade.


One of the world’s leading international nonprofit organizations, Environmental Defense Fund ( creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. To do so, EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With more than 2.5 million members and offices in the United States, China, Mexico, Indonesia and the European Union, EDF’s scientists, economists, attorneys and policy experts are working in 28 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on Twitter @EnvDefenseFund