This opinion piece first appeared in Kyunghyang Shinmun (경향신문), a major daily newspaper in Korea

Seoul skygarden3.jpg

Seoul has turned an old freeway into a skygarden. One way it is improving air quality and making the city healthier.

No one can be free from the changing climate. Heat waves, cold spells, storms, floods and many other extreme disasters are affecting places all around the world. Air pollution, one of the main causes of climate change, part of this global challenge. One that has immediate impacts on the health and wellbeing of millions of people. Particulate matter is not just an issue for East Asian nations such as Korea and China. Air pollution problems are becoming global disaster.

More than 6 million people die prematurely each year from health problems related to air pollution, making poor air quality the biggest environmental threat to health. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 9 out of 10 people worldwide today breathe polluted air. The world’s cities are the worst affected. But there are solutions, and cities are in the best position to help solve the problem.

These solutions can be found in many sectors including transport, industry, and household energy. For example, many cities around the world realized that reducing number of cars is one of the most effective ways to protect their citizens from the air pollution. Some, like Paris and London, are also targeting the types of fuels used and have moved to ban diesel vehicles from their cities. Others are putting in place low-emissions zones and lowering traffic through strategies like only allowing cars whose license plates end in odd or even number use the road on any given day. Many cities are improving public transportation services and moving to soot free or zero-emissions electric buses to encourage citizens to leave their cars at home.

Everyone can do their part to improve air quality. Individuals can choose less polluting options to power their homes and move around, while actions by cities and local governments are necessary to create the conditions and enact the policies that lead to lower emissions.

To help address urban air pollution, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) launched ‘BreatheLife’ a global campaign led by UN Environment and the World Health Organization (WHO), to raise awareness of the health and climate impacts from air pollution and the solutions that individuals and cities can take. The campaign also shares best practices from cities who are already implementing air pollution reduction measures with cities who are just starting out. By sharing stories and knowledge we hope to encourage sustainable urban development and help cities achieve safe air quality levels as recommended by the WHO by 2030.

Currently 37 cities around the world, including London (UK), Oslo (Norway), Washington DC (USA), and Santiago (Chile), have joined this campaign and a total of 34.4 million people are influenced by the activities. Seoul has also recently agreed to join our effort to accurately inform citizens about how air pollution affects their health, develop effective solutions, and share Seoul’s stories with other cities to act together.

Despite challenges Seoul has made a lot of progress toward reducing air pollution and is ready to share its best practices with the world.

Promise of Seoul’, a comprehensive climate change policy is a model now being replicated to Southeast Asian cities to help them overcome climate challenge and air pollution. A good action in one city can spread widely to drive a global change. In this sense, I believe it was meaningful for Seoul to prioritize the public health and develop measures to fight against particulate matter, and I hope Seoul’s action will become a starting point for air quality improvement efforts in East Asia.


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