Air pollution has been getting a lot of media coverage lately - and for good reason. A vast majority of humans live in places where air pollution is severe and excessive. And public health, the economy and sustainable development is suffering because of it.
This week, the United Nations Environment Assembly unanimously agreed to reduce air pollution emissions by encouraging governments to set better air pollution standards and policies. The resolution was signed by environment ministers from around the world.
"Poor air quality is a growing challenge, especially in cities and urban centres, compromising the lives of millions worldwide. Action to reduce air pollution will save lives and provide co-benefits for the climate, ecosystem services, biodiversity and food security," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
Still don't believe it? Here are five reasons you should be seriously worried about air pollution.
1. 92 percent of the world's population live in places with unhealthy levels of air pollution.
A World Health Organization air quality model confirms the vast majority of the world lives in places where air pollution levels exceed recommended limits.
"Air pollution continues take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations — women, children and the older adults," Dr. Flavia Bustreo, assistant director general at WHO, said in a press release.
"For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last."
2. 6.5 million people die annually from air pollution.
Air pollution takes a serious toll on human health. Around 3 million deaths a year are linked to outdoor air pollution, but what many people do not realize is that indoor air pollution can be equally fatal.
In 2012, indoor and outdoor air pollution together were linked to over 11 percent of all global deaths. That's more than the number of people killed by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and road injuries combined.
Obviously, the death toll varies depending on the region. In 2012, China had the most deaths attributable to air quality at 1,032,833. This was followed by 621,138 in India and 140,851 in Russia. In comparison, the U.S. had 38,043 fatalities.
3. Air pollution is the fourth-largest threat to human health.
Air pollution has been linked to approximately 6.5 million deaths every year, which makes it the fourth-largest threat to human health behind high blood pressure, dietary risks and smoking.
Breathing toxic air is detrimental to public health because it can cause respiratory infections, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic lung disease and lung cancer.
"The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes," says Dr Maria Neira, Director of WHO's Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.
"Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe."
4. Almost 17 million infants worldwide are breathing toxic air.
A new UNICEF report has revealed a massive number of children around the world are breathing dirty air, and it could be affecting their brain development.
The study found that exposure to toxic air makes children more vulnerable to developmental problems, which prevent their brains from developing fully and correctly.
The study also reveals two-thirds of the affected infants - over 12 million - live in South Asia. Here, they are exposed to pollution six times higher than recommended limits.
5. Air pollution costs the global economy more than $5 trillion annually in welfare costs
A study from the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has estimated the cost of premature deaths related to air pollution.
The results reveal air pollution is not only costing the world millions of lives, it's also costing trillions of dollars in welfar costs, with the worst effects occurring in the developing world. Even if you just consider lost labor income, air pollution costs the global economy about $225 billion every year.