#TogetherForCleanAir: Addressing Air Pollution Together for a Healthier Future 

by CCAC Secretariat - 7 September, 2023
Celebrating the fourth International Day of Clean Air for blue skies

Air pollution is a public health and climate emergency. It claims an estimated 7 million lives annually worldwide, and has widespread implications for human health and the climate. Air pollution doesn’t recognise borders or boundaries, and collective efforts are necessary to combat its effects. Today, we celebrate the fourth International Day of Clean Air for blue skies with a call for everyone, from governments and corporations to civil society and individuals, to come #TogetherForCleanAir. 

Understanding the Impact of Air Pollution 

Air pollution is a complex and pervasive challenge. It is deadly for humans, and has catastrophic implications for climate change. Almost everyone on earth—99% of the global population—breathes air exceeding WHO air quality standards. Mounting evidence suggests that there is no safe level of air pollution, and that even minimal exposure to air pollutants amplifies the risk of respiratory illnesses, heart diseases, and compounds the effects of diseases like COVID-19. Air pollution disproportionately affects vulnerable groups, including women, children, and the elderly. 
Air pollution and climate change are closely linked: all major pollutants have an impact on the climate and most share common sources with greenhouse gases. There are multiple pollutants to blame, including particulate matter, ground-level ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. These pollutants are responsible for both human health issues and environmental degradation, damaging ecosystems and contributing to climate change. Some pollutants, including methane, hydrofluorocarbons, black carbon, and tropospheric ozone – known as short-lived climate pollutants, or SLCPs – are responsible for up to 45% of global warming today, contributing to rising sea levels and more frequent and extreme climatic events like droughts, fires, and storms. They’re tens to thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the planet, and research actually indicates that keeping the world on a 1.5°C track requires acting both to reduce CO2 and to drastically cut methane. 

Fortunately, combatting air pollution is possible, and affordable, tangible solutions already exist across the world. It’s time for us to come together to implement them.  

Clean Air Without Borders 

Effectively combating air pollution requires collaboration. At the governmental level, this means that countries, cities and regions must work together, transcending geographical borders. By fostering the exchange of knowledge, aligning emission standards, and conducting joint research, governments can play a pivotal role in significantly improving air quality and safeguarding public health. 

“With this year’s theme, Together for Clean Air, we want to encourage collaboration across borders and boundaries, between sectors and beyond silos to reduce air pollution and leverage finance and investments towards air quality measures and solutions,” said Martina Otto, Head of the Secretariat, Climate and Clean Air Coalition. “Everyone has a part to play, and everyone can benefit. Clean air is integral to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.” 

Many governments have already recognised the importance of regional agreements to combat air pollution and have laid the groundwork for action. An exemplary initiative is the Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) convention, a legally binding international treaty under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. The LRTAP convention—which was the first ever to address air pollution internationally—seeks to address the transboundary nature of air pollution by fostering collaboration among countries to reduce emissions of air pollutants that can travel long distances and affect neighbouring regions. This cooperative approach has resulted in substantial reductions in pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, contributing to improved air quality across Europe and beyond. 

If We Want Clean Air, We Need to Fund It 

International organisations have a pivotal role to play in orchestrating global efforts to address air pollution. By leveraging their influence and resources, these organisations can facilitate systemic changes and raise awareness about the imperative of action. Institutions like the World Bank can contribute substantially by providing financial support to countries endeavouring to enhance air quality. This financial backing can enable the adoption of cleaner technologies and the implementation of sustainable urban planning, ultimately fostering cleaner air and more healthful cities. 

But there’s a big problem: there is not nearly enough money being poured into air pollution right now. The Clean Air Fund estimates that 0.5% of international development funding is spent on air pollution, and only 0.1% of philanthropic funding goes to clean air. Slightly more (2.2%) of climate finance goes towards air pollution-specific projects. But this is not enough to tackle the world’s largest environmental health risk. Meanwhile, the global cost of health damages associated with exposure to air pollution is $8.1 trillion. Air pollution fixes are not costly, and cleaning up our air can help meet multiple development and climate goals. This Clean Air Day, international development agencies, climate banks, and other funders have an opportunity to join forces to fund air quality projects and together, work to tackle this communal problem.   

Private Sector Solutions  

Industries carry a significant responsibility in the fight against air pollution, encompassing both their operational practices and supply chains. By embracing cleaner technologies, optimising production processes, and advocating for reducing air pollution throughout their value chains, companies can significantly contribute to cleaning up our air. Business leaders can set positive precedents by prioritising environmentally friendly practices, thereby generating demand for ecologically responsible solutions and practices across sectors.  

The World Economic Forum’s Alliance for Clean Air is an excellent example of how businesses can lead on joint clean air action. Bringing together governments, organisations, industries, and individuals from around the world, the Alliance for Clean Air brings together business leaders to measure and reduce value chain air pollutant emissions, invest in innovation, and work with policy makers and peers to champion the social, economic and climate benefits of tackling air pollution. By fostering cross-sector partnerships and knowledge exchange, the Alliance leverages collective expertise to drive policy changes, promote technological advancements, and raise public awareness about the profound impact of air pollution. 

A Collaborative Clean Air Future 

We have the tools to fight air pollution, save millions of lives, and avoid the most dangerous impact of climate change. Cutting short-lived climate pollutants now, alongside decarbonising economies, is our best shot to meet the world’s goal to limit global warming to 1.5 C. But it’s going to take everyone working together to get there. 

Air pollution necessitates concerted action from governments, international organisations, and companies alike. As we celebrate the fourth International Day of Clean Air for blue skies on September 7, it’s time for people, governments, organisations, and businesses to come together across geographical, industrial, and sectoral boundaries to fight for cleaner air. Whether in small towns or bustling cities, in low grasslands or high mountains, we must come #TogetherForCleanAir and for a better future for all. 

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