Skip to main content

The climate crisis is one of the most urgent challenges we face today, and the worsening of planetary health places our own health at risk. As pollution levels rise, air pollution has become the biggest environmental health risk in Europe. Around  % of the EU’s urban population is exposed to health-damaging levels of air pollution, and pollution levels are consistently higher in the more disadvantaged regions of Europe.

Closely following this, environmental noise is estimated to be the second highest environmental risk factor in driving disease burden in the EU. Exposure to noise can lead to mental health impacts and long-term exposure increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cognitive impairment as well as reduced hearing and tinnitus. It is more urgent than ever to find collaborative solutions to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change in ways that promote and protect everyone’s health.

On 5-7th July, the WHO Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health gathered Member State representatives from across the WHO European Region, public health institutions, and civil society in Budapest to come together and make commitments to address the ‘triple threat’ of climate change, environmental pollution, and biodiversity loss. These discussions came at a crucial time to understand the unequal impacts caused by pollution levels, and the actions necessary to reduce pollution levels and protect the health of everyone across Europe.

BEST-COST was present at the EuroHealthNet booth in the conference to promote the project and its goals. BEST-COST is developing a novel methodological framework to quantify the burden and cost, as well as the social and health inequalities, caused by air and noise pollution. The expected results from BEST-COST will contribute to improved policies and practices that reduce the burden of disease, and to creating living and working environments that are more health-promoting, equitable and sustainable across the whole of Europe.

Key takeaways on air and noise pollution

Among various topics centred around the ‘triple threat’, the conference plenary sessions discussed the life-long impact of air pollution on health, starting from the foetus and throughout childhood into adulthood. It also explored the need to tackle indoor air pollution considering people spend up to 80% of their time indoors, including in public spaces and not just their own home. Key points were raised on the importance of monitoring data and addressing the inequalities of pollution, including the cross-regional benefits of reducing air pollution.

The discussions cumulated in the Budapest Declaration adopted by Member States with a view to move forward with commitments to take action on threats to environmental health. While the Declaration is a list of commitments, it includes a “Roadmap for healthier people, a thriving planet and a sustainable future 2023–2030”, with proposed actions for Member States to consider in their efforts to achieve the aims of the Declaration.

The commitments related to air and noise pollution were to:

  • Develop and implement policies and actions to reduce exposure to environmental noise, and exploring the health and well-being benefits of interventions that target both air quality and environmental noise;
  • Update policies with a gradual implementation of stricter air quality standards and improving indoor air quality with particular focus on children and other vulnerable groups;
  • Support ratification/advance the implementation of multilateral agreements relevant for this agenda, as appropriate, such as the Protocol on Water and Health, and the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, including its Gothenburg Protocol.

The actions Member States will consider to accelerate progress on air and noise pollution are:

  • A promise to use WHO guidelines on air quality and environmental noise as evidence informed reference for national standard setting or actions/interventions;
  • Leverage existing platforms, like the Joint Task Force on Health Aspects of Air Pollution under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, and tools to strengthen capacities and systems to monitor air pollutants and to assess the health impacts of air pollution;

While the Declaration and associated Roadmap are ambitious, in order to bridge the gap between commitments and actions Member States must follow through with a concrete plan of initiatives and associate timeline. At BEST-COST, we are developing research methodologies which will be key in understanding the health costs of pollution felt across Europe. With that, we will develop relevant policy recommendations for implementation at all levels across Europe.

For more information, read EuroHealthNet’s statement on the outcomes of the conference here.