Breathing Clean Air Now Recognised as a Fundamental Human Right

Dhaka Skyline Picture

A stark headline in the UK publication The Guardian earlier this month cautioned that ‘Air pollution will lead to mass migration’.

A stark headline in the UK publication The Guardian earlier this month cautioned that ‘Air pollution will lead to mass migration’.
This worrying commentary comes on foot of a landmark migration ruling in the French courts. The case centred around a Bangladeshi man with asthma who successfully avoided deportation from France on the basis that dangerous levels of air pollution in his home country of Bangladesh posed a tangible risk to his health, including the risk of premature death. Indeed, this claim is supported by many World Health Organisation studies that have established clear links between poor air quality and negative human health impacts, including asthma and other respiratory illnesses. And air quality issues are not exclusive to countries in the developing world; as frequently noted in Sonitus Systems’ articles on this website, air pollution contributes to around one in every four deaths on the planet.

According to The Guardian article, the “French extradition case [that] turned on environmental concerns” and it is understood to be the first time that the environment has been cited in such a legal battle. An expulsion (deportation) order had been granted against the 40-year-old man, however, the appeals court in Bordeaux overturned this order on the grounds that this individual would inevitably face “a worsening of his respiratory pathology due to air pollution” in Bangladesh, which ranked 179th in the world for air quality in 2020 (concentration of PM in the air is six times the WHO’s recommended maximum). This landmark case opens the door to many similar challenges to deportation cases around the world. Legal and environmental expert, Sailesh Mehta, warns that air pollution and environmental degradation will lead to mass migration in the future and has now called for world leaders to take action “as a matter of urgency”, pointing out that air and water pollution “do not respect national boundaries”. He also reiterated that breathing clean air is a fundamental human right and it is positive and important to see governments and courts recognise this at a basic level. Looking ahead, the barrister predicted that “as global warming makes parts of our planet uninhabitable, mass migration will become the norm”.

So, what does that mean for countries? The court of appeals ruling mentioned above referenced ‘dangerous’ levels of air pollution, however, it remains to be seen how subjective those levels will be considered by different courts and/or governments around the world. The past decade has seen a huge rise in air quality monitoring – both indoor and outdoor – by local governments and by individual organisations. In many countries, including Ireland and the UK, this monitoring is reinforced by climate action measures, for example, a phasing out of burning fossil fuels. The next step must surely be an education or awareness initiative, highlighting the impact of poor air quality on human health and giving people access to real-time information and insights about the quality of air locally so that they might make informed decisions.

Sonitus Systems offers both the hardware and software for a range of environmental parameters on a continual basis, with real-time information available through our Sonitus Cloud dashboard.
For more details on our indoor and outdoor noise and air quality monitoring products and services, please contact the team at