European Environment Ministers call for improved air quality for the environment and human health

by CCAC secretariat - 10 June, 2016
Air quality an important part of the “Greener, cleaner, smarter!” Ministerial Declaration passed at the Eighth Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference in Batumi, Georgia

Ministers representing 44 countries from the UN European region issued a declaration today including a commitment to improving air quality for a better environment and human health. Countries in the region – which stretches from Canada and the US to Russia and Kazakhstan – will take actions to improve air quality, including integrating air pollution reduction measures into financial and development policies.

Many of the measures countries can take include those to reduce short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), and Ministers acknowledged the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) as a voluntary partnership that is well placed to support them in their efforts to reduce air pollution. Ministers also discussed the links between air pollution reduction measures, efforts to implement the Paris Agreement, and how reducing emissions contributes to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Prime Minister of Georgia, opens the conference.

The declaration was made at the Eighth Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference, taking place in Batumi, Georgia. Earlier this week delegates were reminded that air pollution is now the greatest health risk in the region, with more than 95% of the EU urban population exposed to levels above World Health Organization guidelines. Over 500,000 premature deaths in the region were attributable to outdoor air quality and 100,000 to indoor air quality in 2012.

"Air pollution costs European economies US$ 1.6 trillion a year in diseases and deaths," Zsuzsanna Jakab, World Health Organization Regional Director for Europe, said.

With a focus on taking fast action, Ministers endorsed the “Batumi Action for Cleaner Air” which sets out a number of measures countries can take to address a wide range of air pollutants, including short-lived climate pollutants. These measures will help countries to clean up the air, and contribute positively to people’s health, as well as bringing other development benefits.

28 countries have already made voluntary commitments for such action for cleaner air in the next five years. Countries committed to specific actions in five main areas: monitoring; national action programmes; public awareness; capacity-building; and policy. Examples of concrete actions countries have promised to carry out include promoting electric mobility, improving emission inventories, launching information campaigns and developing smartphone applications on air quality.

Sand art on "Improving air quality"
A video presentation of sand art on"Improving Air Quality for a Better Environment and Human Health"
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The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) , a partner in the CCAC, produced a scientific assessment so countries can take action based on strong science. The report – “Towards Cleaner Air Scientific Assessment Report 2016: Summary for Policymakers” – emphasises that while progress has been made some air pollutants including fine particles are still near or above WHO guideline level. The report makes the point that there is still much work to do on air pollution in the region, but that solutions are available. Moreover “air pollution control costs are generally significantly lower than the costs of damage to human health and the environment”.

UNECE hosts the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, a 1979 convention that has achieved a sharp decline in emissions of air pollutants across the UN European region. The CCAC as part of its 5-Year Strategy 2020 will enhance its collaboration with the Convention, especially on black carbon issues, as part of its goal to achieve widespread adoption and implementation of policies, regulations and practices to substantially reduce SLCPs.

Paragraph six of the Ministerial Declaration “Greener, cleaner, smarter!” focuses on air pollution. It says:

“While praising the good progress achieved in the pan-European region over the past three decades in decreasing emissions of the main air-polluting substances and their impacts, we are concerned that air pollution, both outdoor and indoor, remains the largest environmental health threat and an important risk factor for major non-communicable diseases. We therefore commit to improving air quality for a better environment and human health, including by integrating air pollution reduction measures into financial and development policies, as well as other sectoral policies, as appropriate, cooperation to address transboundary impacts and enhanced policy coordination and coherence at the national and regional levels. We commend the good collaboration between ECE and the World Health Organization on air pollution and invite them, in cooperation with other relevant international organizations and voluntary partnerships such as the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-lived Climate Pollutants, to support countries in their efforts to reduce air pollution.”


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