Most of the world’s population is breathing in bad air and that is adding to concerns about greater global health problems, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Monday.

In an update released by the agency, it stated that up to 99% of the global population was inhaling bad air that exceeds WHO measurements for air quality. It made this finding after drawing data from over 6,000 municipalities worldwide to measure where they score on its air quality reporting metrics.

In WHO's measurements of air quality, it made a determination on how harmful it was based on the presence of nitrogen dioxide, a common particle released when fossil fuels are being burned. Traditionally, WHO primarily relied on two types of particulate matter, known as PM2.5 and PM10, but this is the first update that includes nitrogen oxides as a key metric to consider.

Exposure to the particles can contribute to respiratory diseases like asthma and can see people develop symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing, resulting in more hospital and emergency-room admissions, said WHO. 

According to the agency, the highest concentrations of this poor air quality could be found in the regions of the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and across Africa. Altogether, these regions count hundreds of millions of people within their population but they are also highly reliant on fossil fuels to fuel industrialization. 

These findings took on added meaning because of the current pressure being placed on governments to bring down globally high energy prices, which may mean producing more fossil fuels. Between the war in Ukraine and the economic rebound experienced in some parts of the world from COVID-19, demand has reached very high levels for oil, gas, and coal. 

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, noted these trends and said the health problems created by fossil fuels, as well as climate change, should prompt a renewed urgency in addressing both problems.

"High fossil fuel prices, energy security, and the urgency of addressing the twin health challenges of air pollution and climate change, underscore the pressing need to move faster towards a world that is much less dependent on fossil fuels,” said Tedros in a statement

Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, sounded a similar warning as Tedros in the agency’s statement. She noted that the destruction of the COVID-19 pandemic in some parts of the world should not be replaced by doubling down on pollutants that carry their own health risks. 

“After surviving a pandemic, it is unacceptable to still have 7 million preventable deaths and countless preventable lost years of good health due to air pollution,” said Neira.