.Says significant gaps hinder clean air progress
. Announce global elimination of leaded petrol
Nine out of 10 (90%) people on earth breathe polluted air, which causes an estimated seven million premature deaths a year, the United Nations Environment Progamme (UNEP), has declared.
Admitting that governments are increasingly adopting policies on air quality, the agency however insists that significant gaps hinder global progress towards cleaner air.
These observations were made known in multiple statements issued by UNEP to mark the second edition of the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies yesterday, themed: Healthy Air, Healthy Planet, which highlights the link between air quality and planetary and human health.
The commemoration of the day provides a platform for strengthening global solidarity as well as political momentum for action against air pollution and climate change, including actions like the increased collection of air quality data, carrying out joint research, developing new technologies and sharing best practices.
In 2019, the UN General Assembly designated September 7, as the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, which stresses the importance of clean air and the urgent need for efforts to improve air quality to protect human health.
Already, a report released by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on August 9, also declared ‘code red for humanity’, stating that human activities, especially in relation to greenhouse gas emissions accumulated in the atmosphere from coal and fossil fuels exploitation are causing climate change.
In his message on the Day, UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said: “Like many societal ills, air pollution reflects global inequalities. Poverty forces people to live close to sources of pollution, like factories and highways, and burn solid fuels or kerosene for cooking, heating, and lighting. The pollution that is damaging our health is also driving the climate crisis. I call on all countries to do more to improve air quality, invest in renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, phase out coal, and transition to zero emission vehicles.”
Based on its findings, UNEP therefore called on countries to incorporate investments in air pollution clean-up into their post-COVID-19 recovery plans, contained in the statements obtained by Sustainable Economy.
It also urged the setting up of “benchmarks to assess current and future actions towards cleaner air, and to remove barriers in the implementation of policies and programmes, including financing and capacity gaps, and to overcome affordability and maintenance challenges of monitoring equipment.”
UNEP explained that such actions became imperative following a global review of policies and programmes to improve air quality, which showed that “over the past five years more countries have adopted policies on all major polluting sectors. Yet large gaps in implementation, financing, capacity, and monitoring mean that air pollution levels remain high.”
Official commemorations of the second International Day of Clean Air for blue skies were hosted in Nairobi, New York and Bangkok.
The main high-level event for the day included UNEP’s Executive Director, Inger Andersen, and UNEP’s Chief Scientist, Andrea Hinwood, along with other experts and government officials who addressed global action and inaction on air pollution.
Speaking in Nairobi, Ms. Andersen said: “Improving air quality won’t just help improve our health. It will help us save the planet. We all breathe the same air, and we all have a role to play in protecting it. The world is coming together, but we need to translate commitments into policies and actions. For human and planetary health for generations to come, 2021 will be a pivotal year.”
The pollution that is damaging our health is also driving the climate crisis. I call on all countries to do more to improve air quality, invest in renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, phase out coal, and transition to zero emission vehicles.
Actions on air pollution
In the run-up to the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, UNEP joined partners to announce the global elimination of the use of leaded petrol, a major achievement that will prevent more than 1.2 million premature deaths and save $2.45 trillion a year.
Earlier in the month, UNEP released the first-ever assessment of air pollution legislation, examining national air quality legislation in 194 States and the European Union.
It reveals similar progress: two out of three countries in the world have legally mandated standards for outdoor air quality. Yet it also shows how widely standards vary and don’t match WHO guidelines. It concludes with a call for stronger monitoring mechanisms to effectively implement air quality laws.
Also yesterday, the second report on global policies and programmes to reduce air pollution, Actions on Air Quality, shows that more countries have adopted multiple policies to reduce air pollution. Yet large gaps in implementation, financing, capacity, as well as monitoring, mean that air pollution levels remain high.
The report is complemented by six regional report summaries from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, and West Asia.
In addition to these reports, UNEP has teamed up with IQAir, a Swiss air quality technology company, to launch a global air pollution calculator. The tool, which deploys artificial intelligence, builds on the world’s largest air quality data platform, launched last year to estimate population exposure of any country, each hour.
UNEP also teamed up with Safaricom, a Kenyan telecom company, and IQAir to stream real-time air pollution measurements around the city to large digital billboards.
This is aimed at increasing awareness on the impact of air pollution among Nairobi’s 4.7 million inhabitants, who suffer routinely from deadly levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5).
The pilot project is the first of its kind on the continent and includes multiple stakeholders, including local government and advertising providers.
The International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, first marked in 2020, calls for increased international cooperation at the global, regional and sub-regional levels.