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Linkages for Healthy Air and a Healthy Planet: Reducing Air Pollution, Protecting Health and Mitigating Climate Change

September 8, 2021


people wearing protective face masks and walking near factory pipes city with smoke on background

Photo credit: Lemberg Vector studio/

  • Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats the world faces, and is the world’s leading environmental risk to human health. In 2019 alone, exposure to PM2.5, also known as fine particulate matter, was responsible for 6.4 million premature deaths and some 22 million years lived with disability. Low- and middle-income countries suffer the highest burden, with 95% of deaths occurring in these countries. 

    The theme of this year’s International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies is ‘Healthy Air, Healthy Planet.' This webinar examines three vital links for achieving the objectives embodied in this theme. The huge health and economic tolls of air pollution, coupled with its multi-faceted impacts on city livability and competitiveness, make air pollution squarely a development problem. 

    This webinar discussed how the World Bank is supporting air quality management through analytical work at a global level. The webinar presented findings from recently completed analytical work that estimates the global cost of health damages associated with PM2.5 air pollution based on health data from the Global Burden of Disease study for 2019. The findings of a meta-analysis that sheds more light on whether different constituents and sources of PM2.5 are more or less harmful to health than others are also presented. In addition, an evaluation of whether satellite-derived measurements are reliable for predicting ground-level concentrations of air pollutants that cause mortality in low-and middle-income countries, notably PM2.5, will be presented. Finally, the webinar discussed integrated approaches for air quality management and climate change mitigation. 


    Yewande Aramide Awe, Sr Environmental Engineer, Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy Global Practice, World Bank


    Bjorn Larsen, International Development Economist and Consultant
    George Thurston, Director of the Program in Exposure Assessment and Human Health Effects, Department of Environmental Medicine, New York University 
    Matthew Alvarado, Vice President, Research and Development at Atmospheric and Environmental Research 
    Grzegorz Peszko, Lead Economist, World Bank

    Bjorn Larsen is an International Development Economist and Consultant to international and bilateral development agencies, consulting firms, and research institutions with 30 years of professional experience. His primary fields of consulting and research are environmental health and natural resource management from over 50 countries in Asia, Central and South America, Europe, Middle East and North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa, and training delivery and conference presentation in over 20 countries. In the last 20 years as a consultant, he has prepared over 100 research and policy reports and papers and has 25 publications in professional journals and books. His clients include Governments, World Bank, Water and Sanitation Program, Copenhagen Consensus Center (Denmark), UNICEF, World Health Organization, DFID, AusAid and CIDA, Resources for the Future (USA), Economic Research Forum (Egypt), Environmental Resources Management (UK), ECON (Norway), and Unilever Research (UK).

    George Thurston is Director of the Program in Exposure Assessment and Health Effects in the Department of Environmental Medicine at New York University (NYU) and leading scholar on the human health effects of air pollution. His research has focused on the human health effects of air pollution, especially regarding fine particulate matter (PM2.5). His work has involved studies of air pollution exposure and their health effects in panels of individual human subjects, as well as large cohorts. In 1987, he published the first research documenting the association between PM2.5 mass and its components with mortality, as well as the first paper using source apportionment methods to relate specific PM2.5 sources with mortality, especially coal burning.  In 2012, Professor Thurston was awarded the prestigious “Haagen Smit Prize” by the scientific journal Atmospheric Environment. He has also been a leader in bringing scientists and physicians together to reach consensus on key issues. He led the recent American Thoracic Society and European Respiratory Society Joint Statement: What Constitutes an Adverse Effect of Air Pollution? and received the 2017 American Thoracic Society's Public Service Award. Professor Thurston has also been a pioneer researching the human health co-benefits of climate change mitigation, first publishing in Science on the issue in 2001

    Matthew Alvarado leads AER’s Research and Development Division, responsible for scientific research in the areas of air quality, satellite remote sensing, numerical weather prediction, physical oceanography, climate science, cloud microphysics, and seasonal forecasting. Dr. Alvarado’s research expertise includes atmospheric chemistry, air quality, and radiative transfer modeling. He has led numerous successful research efforts as a principal investigator for government, non-profit, and industry clients. A scientist at AER since 2010, Dr. Alvarado received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering and Ph.D. in Climate Physics and Chemistry from MIT and was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Atmospheric Chemistry at Harvard University. 

    Grzegorz Peszko is a Lead Economist in the Environment, Natural Resource and Blue Economy Global Practice of the World Bank. He previously worked in the EBRD, the OECD, the Krakow University of Economics, the Polish Ministry of Environment, the Harvard Institute for International Development, consulting firms, Polish Radio and TV and as a tram driver. His research, policy and project work focus on integration of economic, fiscal, energy, environmental and climate economics and policy. He has over 25 years of experience in regulatory, energy, environmental and natural resources economics as well as in financial and fiscal instruments across the world’s regions and countries. Mr. Peszko was the lead author of the IPCC 3rd Assessment Report and participated in the design of flexible mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol. He published extensively and served in the board of an academic journal. He holds a PhD in economics from the Krakow University of Economics, MSc in natural resource economics from the University College London and MSc in Political Sciences from the Krakow Jagiellonian University.