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World Environment Day

03 June 2019

5 June 2019

Every five seconds, a premature death caused by air pollution, UN rights expert says

  • 7 million people die prematurely every year from air pollution 
  • Among the 7 million, 600,000 are children
  • 90 percent of world’s population breathe polluted air

GENEVA (3 June 2019) – Ahead of World Environment Day (*) on 5 June, an independent UN expert has urged States to beat air pollution to fulfill their human rights obligations.

“Air pollution is a silent, invisible and prolific killer that is responsible for the premature death of 7 million people each year, disproportionately affecting women, children and poor communities,” said David Boyd, the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.

“Failing to ensure clean air constitutes a violation of the rights to life, health and well-being, as well as the right to live in a healthy environment. States must take urgent action to improve air quality to fulfill their human rights obligations.”

Boyd said clean air is a core component of the right to a healthy environment, together with clean water and adequate sanitation, healthy and sustainably produced food, non-toxic environment, healthy biodiversity and a safe climate.

“The right to a healthy environment is fundamental to human well-being and is legally recognised by over 150 States at the national and regional levels. It should be globally reaffirmed to ensure the enjoyment of this right by everyone, everywhere while upholding the human rights principles of universality and non-discrimination.

“There are numerous success stories of drastically reducing air pollution from across the world including China, who is hosting World Environment Day this year. These stories prove that air pollution is a preventable problem.”

He reiterated seven key steps from his recent UN Human Rights Council report that States must take: monitor air quality and impacts on human health; assess sources of air pollution; make information publicly available, including public health advisories; establish air quality legislation, regulations, standards and policies; develop air quality action plans at the local, national and, if necessary, regional levels; implement the air quality action plan and enforce the standards; and evaluate progress and, if necessary, strengthen the plan to ensure that the standards are met.

“In celebration of World Environment Day, I urge States to take bold action to beat air pollution, improve health, address climate change and fulfill their human rights obligations,” the expert said.


David R. Boyd (Canada) was appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment for a three-year term commencing 1 August 2018. He is an associate professor of law, policy, and sustainability at the University of British Columbia.  

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work. 

For further information and media enquiries, please contact Soo Young Hwang  (+41 22 917 9267 / [email protected]) 
For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact: Jeremy Laurence (+41 22 917 9383 / [email protected]) 

(*) World Environment Day is the United Nations day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action to protect the environment celebrated since 1974. It is organized around a theme that addresses a particularly pressing environmental concern. The theme for 2019 is air pollution and it is hosted by China. See,