Solutions to Pollution

Solutions to Pollution

The Lancet Commission detailed some viable solutions against pollution, but also emphasized the need for accountability and responsibility of all the involved parties: citizens and civil societies, governments and officials, but also the importance of vested interests, that may or not interfere with the solutions at hand.



Control and prevention of pollution provide several benefits, both short-term and long-term, for societies at every level of income. The direct benefits of pollution mitigation include improvements in air and water quality and improvements in health. The health benefits include reductions in disease incidence and prevalence, improvements in children’s health, reductions in the numbers of premature deaths, increasing longevity, and substantial enhancements in quality of life.

Indirect benefits include enhancing gender equity, alleviating poverty, increasing tourism, improving education, and enhancing political stability. Pollution control makes cities more livable and attractive, benefits ecosystems, improves the economy and, when coupled with efforts to transition to clean fuels and to control emissions of greenhouse gases, pollution control can help to slow the pace of global climate change and accelerate the transition to a cleaner, more sustainable, circular economy.

Pollution control today builds on the successes of the past. The industrially developed countries were the first to control pollution, and many of their control strategies were adopted in the aftermath of environmental and public health disasters caused by pollution. Thus, in mid-19th century London, UK, putrid contamination of the River Thames and recurrent epidemics of cholera led to regulation of public drinking water sources and to the construction of large conduits for the removal of human waste and industrial pollution that now form the Thames Embankment.


Citizens and civil society organizations in countries and cities around the world have important responsibilities in the prevention of pollution, and non-governmental organizations have an important role in many countries in holding governments and companies accountable for pollution control and prevention of pollution-related disease.

Civil society organizations can contribute to pollution control by acting as watchdogs, by serving as representatives of the public interest, and by advocating for specific policies, regulations, and practices. Civil society groups, especially those that are well funded and science-based, are a powerful force to represent poisoned populations. These organizations can highlight omissions in policy and advocate for change. The best of these organizations provide solid policy support to government action and take a long-term, broad view of issues in their actions and recommendations.


Heads of government also have great power to address the so-called “political economy” of pollution. Much of the present pollution – especially the industrial one – is produced by vested interests that profit by externalizing the costs of production and discharging unwanted wastes into the environment. These individuals and organizations will typically resist efforts to control pollution. Heads of government have unique power to overcome this resistance and to negotiate just settlements that reduce pollution and achieve social justice.

Experience in countries at all levels of income shows that pollution control can be accomplished in the face of powerful opposition, but that the task is seldom easy and requires committed leadership and broad partnerships across civil society.

The analyses regarding trade-offs between economic development and pollution are nuanced and vary substantially from industry to industry and country to country. In general, when public health externalities are included in the assessment, even primary industries like heavy manufacturing and mining achieve better long term macroeconomic performance when strong controls for pollution management are in place. However, these analyses can be complex and often contentious.

Projections of growth rates and of the burden of pollution-related disease should look at sliding ranges of benefit, since low-polluting industries might provide substantial net benefits to a community. Heads of government who successfully confront vested interests, bring agencies together, reduce environmental injustice, control pollution and prevent pollution-related disease can reap great praise, build a legacy, help the world achieve the SDGs, and earn an honored place in history.