UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering


IEDE researcher contributes to UNEP report "Frontiers 2022: Noise, Blazes and Mismatches"

17 February 2022

UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering Research Associate Dr Francesco Aletta has contributed to the latest UN Environment Programme report "Frontiers 2022: Noise, Blazes and Mismatches".

Soundwave mountains illustration

This is the fourth edition of the Frontiers Report, which was first published in 2016 with an alert to the growing risk of zoonotic diseases, four years before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The Frontiers Report identifies and offers solutions to three emerging environmental issues that merit attention and action from governments and the public at large,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “Wildfires, urban noise pollution and phenological shifts – the three topics of this Frontiers report – are issues that highlight the urgent need to address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss.” The latest edition of the Frontiers report is released days before the resumed fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA).

Dr Francesco Aletta from the UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering Acoustics Group authored the first chapter of the report "Listening to cities - From noise environments to positive soundscapes". Unwanted, prolonged and high-level sounds from road traffic, railways, or leisure activities impair human health and well-being. This includes chronic annoyance and sleep disturbance, resulting in severe heart diseases and metabolic disorders such as diabetes, hearing impairment, and poorer mental health. Noise pollution already leads to 12,000 premature deaths each year in the EU and affects one in five EU citizens. Acceptable noise levels are surpassed in many cities worldwide, including New York, Algiers, Ibadan (Nigeria), Islamabad, Dhaka, Damascus, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City. Particularly affected are the very young, the elderly and marginalized communities near high traffic roads, and industrial areas and far from green spaces. It is also a threat to animals, altering communications and the behaviour of various species, including birds, insects, and amphibians. At the same time, natural sounds can offer diverse health benefits.

Urban designers should prioritize the reduction of noise pollution through better planning; investments in alternative mobilities; and infrastructure that creates positive soundscapes such as tree belts, green walls, green roofs, and more green spaces in cities. COVID-19 lockdowns brought a new appreciation for green spaces and the reduction of urban traffic noise. Programmes meant to ‘build back better’ represent an under-utilized opportunity for policymakers, urban planners and communities to create additional green spaces for all. 

Dr Aletta said:

Working with the UN Environment Programme on this #Frontiers2022 report was an extremely rewarding experience. It made me feel that the international community is now paying attention to the important issues of environmental noise and soundscape quality in cities. I think it is also an important acknowledgement of the work we do here at the UCL IEDE Acoustics Group and within the broader soundscape research community."


Image credit: UN Environment Programme