Air Pollution

WHO tightens Global Air Quality norms


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) 2021

Mains level : Air pollution

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its first-ever update since 2005 has tightened global air pollution standards.

Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) 2021

  • WHO announces limits for six pollutant categories —particulate matter (PM) 2.5 and 10, ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) sulphur dioxide (SO2) and carbon monoxide (CO).

Air quality standards in India

  • India aligns with the WHO guidelines only in the case of ozone and carbon monoxide, as these have not changed. But both NO2 and SO2 guidelines are tighter than the current Indian standard.
  • The move doesn’t immediately impact India as the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) don’t meet the WHO’s existing standards.
  • The government has a dedicated National Clean Air Programme that aims for a 20% to 30% reduction in particulate matter concentrations by 2024 in 122 cities, keeping 2017 as the base year.

Significance of WHO’s AQG

Ans. It sets the stage for eventual shifts in policy

  • WHO move sets the stage for eventual shifts in policy in the government towards evolving newer stricter standards.
  • This will soon become part of policy discussions — much like climate targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions keep getting stricter over time.
  • Once cities and States are set targets for meeting pollution emission standards, it could lead to overall changes in national standards.

Challenges for India

  • The current challenge in India is to meet its national ambient air quality standards in all the regions.
  • The hard lockdown phases during the pandemic have demonstrated the dramatic reduction that is possible when local pollution and regional influences can be minimised.
  • This has shown that if local action is strengthened and scaled up at speed across the region, significant reduction to meet a much tighter target is possible.
  • The influence of geo-climatic attributes is quite pronounced in all regions of India, which further aggravates the local build-up of pollution.
  • This is further worsened due to the rapid proliferation of pollution sources and weak air quality management systems.
  • India may require a more nuanced regional approach to maximise benefits and sustain air quality gains.


  • Air pollution is a threat to health in all countries, but it hits people in low- and middle-income countries the hardest.
  • WHO’s new Air Quality Guidelines are an evidence-based and practical tool for improving the quality of the air on which all life depends.

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