World Health Organization issues new air quality standards in response to growing evidence of the health impacts of pollution

On September 22, for the first time in 16 years, the World Health Organization updated its Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) , based on the rapidly growing scientific evidence that air pollutants can effect human health at even lower concentrations than previously understood. WHO’s new guidelines recommend air quality levels for 6 “classic pollutants”: particulate matter (PM), ozone (O₃), nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) sulfur dioxide (SO₂) and carbon monoxide (CO), and also highlight good practices for the management of certain types of particulates for which there is not yet sufficient evidence to set guideline levels (for example, black carbon/elemental carbon, ultrafine particles, particles originating from sand and dust storms). The press release states: “Clean air should be a fundamental human right and a necessary condition for healthy and productive societies. However, despite some improvements in air quality over the past three decades, millions of people continue to die prematurely, often affecting the most vulnerable and marginalized populations.”  The accompanying Fact Sheet provides key statistics, and a report in The Guardian   summarizes some of the most shocking , including:

“Every one of the 100 most populous cities in the world exceeded the new WHO guideline for tiny particle pollution in 2020, according to Greenpeace analysis. This includes Tokyo, Shanghai, New York, Lagos, London, and Delhi, with the latter exceeding the limit by 17 times.”

And what is one of the most dangerous kinds of pollution, even in cities?   “Mortality risk attributable to wildfire-related PM2·5 pollution: a global time series study in 749 locations” is a pioneering study published on September 1 in Lancet Planetary Health. It analyzes data from 749 cities in 43 countries and regions during 2000–16 and concludes that while wildfires are far from the only source of PM 2.5 pollution in cities, the PM 2.5 exposure from wildfires was more deadly, and longer-lasting, than fine particle pollution from other urban sources – probably because of the chemical makeup and smaller size of the particles in wildfire smoke.   

The complex challenge of emissions reduction in the movement of goods

walmart truckThe State of Freight: Understanding greenhouse gas emissions from goods movement in Canada    is a detailed examination of the factors driving the increase of emissions from goods movement, and the complex of federal, provincial, and municipal programs and legislation. The report makes a convincing case for the importance of this issue:  Freight (defined as road, rail, ship and plane), accounted for 10.5 per cent of total emissions in Canada in 2015; freight is the fastest-growing segment of the transportation sector, and the transportation sector is the second highest source of emissions in Canada – and the largest sectoral source of emissions in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.  And simply put: “Any business with a supply chain depends on freight. And nearly everything we purchase as consumers has to be transported to the purchase or delivery point.”

The report focuses most attention on the movement of goods using heavy-duty trucks, and identifies the main actors in that industry, as well as examples of  international programs to improve efficiency, including the  U.S., California, and the EU.  Good companion reading on that issue is the April 2017 Pembina report, Improving Urban Freight Efficiency: Global best practices in reducing emissions in goods movement , which  provides case studies from New York City, Toronto, Sweden, and London.  A 2014 report by Pembina also focuses on Toronto:  see Greening the Goods: Opportunities for low-carbon goods movement in Toronto  .

The State of Freight  identifies as the key opportunities to reduce emissions:  carbon pricing and the forthcoming federal Clean Fuel Standard; Phase 2 heavy-duty vehicle efficiency regulations ; Continued rollout and adoption of efficiency technologies; Build-out of fuelling infrastructure –  biofuels, natural gas ,  electric and hydrogen; and integration of  goods movement into regional and municipal land use planning.


Catching up to the transportation revolution: Canada will have a national electric vehicle strategy by 2018

Electric vehicles Wikimedia Commons 768x512On May 26, Canada’s Minister of Transportation announced  that Canada will develop  a national electric vehicle strategy by 2018 in consultation with provincial and territorial governments, as promised in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change agreement.  A national Advisory Group has already been established to develop options in five areas: vehicle supply, cost and benefits of ownership, infrastructure readiness, public awareness, and clean growth and clean jobs.  The Advisory Group includes representatives from governments, industry, consumer and non-government organizations and academia.  In November 2016, the Minister had released a vision document,   Transportation 2030: A Strategic Plan for the Future of Transportation in Canada , which included all modes of transportation – air, ships, trucks and trains, as well as  a section on Green and Innovative Transport . According to the government press release on May 26 , transportation accounts for about 24 percent of Canada’s emissions, mostly from cars and trucks.  The Pembina Institute states that there are only 21,000 electric cars on the road in Canada in 2017.

Relevant views of the future:    Expect the Unexpected  , a report from Carbon Tracker Initiative in February 2017,  forecasts that electric vehicles will account for over two-thirds of the road transport market worldwide by 2050.  “The Transportation Revolution is Closer Than You Think” , a May 22 blog  from Climate Works Foundation summarizes several recent studies.    And a new report, Three Revolutions in Urban Transportation  envisions three scenarios up to 2050, and states:  “ The world is on the cusp of three revolutions in transportation: vehicle electrification, automation, and widespread shared mobility (sharing of vehicle trips). Separately or together, these revolutions will fundamentally change urban transportation around the world over the next three decades.”    …Our central finding is that while vehicle electrification and automation may produce potentially important benefits, without a corresponding shift toward shared mobility and greater use of transit and active transport, these two revolutions could significantly increase congestion and urban sprawl, while also increasing the likelihood of missing climate change targets. In contrast, by encouraging a large increase in trip sharing, transit use, and active transport through policies that support compact, mixed use development, cities worldwide could save an estimated $5 trillion annually by 2050 while improving livability and increasing the likelihood of meeting climate change targets.”  Three Revolutions was published by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways at UC Davis.

3 revolutions in transportation Infographic_itdp

Architects Commit to Build Zero Emissions World by 2050

In early August, at the International Union of Architects (UIA) World Congress, architects from around the world signed the “2050 Imperative”, committing them to eliminating emissions in the built environment by 2050.
UIA member organizations alone represent 1.3 million architects in 124 countries. From Canada, the declaration was signed by The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC). From the text: “We recognize our responsibility to seize this unique opportunity to influence ethical, socially responsible development throughout the world: to plan and design sustainable, resilient, carbon -neutral and healthy built environments that protect and enhance natural resources and wildlife habitats, provide clean air and water, generate on-site renewable energy, and advance more livable buildings and communities”.

The 2050 Imperative and the media advisory from Architecture 2030 are available at: The 6-page declaration is at: