A new Clean Air Fund was launched at last week’s Climate Action Summit to boost action that fights air pollution, offering grants and support to “organizations working to combat air pollution, improve human health and accelerate decarbonisation”.
The Fund will also support “ambitious local government action”, according to its Executive Director, Jane Burston, who noted that it was working with cities in the C40 network to broaden air quality monitoring.
At its launch, the Fund had raised $50 million in new commitments from donors the IKEA Foundation, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the Bernard van Leer Foundation, Oak Foundation, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity and the FIA Foundation.
These founding partners hope to reach their target of $100 million to help tackle what the WHO has called a public health emergency, and one that is deeply entwined with climate change.
According to the WHO, 91 per cent of the world’s population, or about seven billion people, breathe unhealthy air, which cuts short 7 million lives each year. Poor outdoor air quality alone causes 4.2 million deaths, more than those from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined.
“Without aggressive intervention, the number of deaths is on track to increase by more than 50 per cent by 2050,” Jane Burston, Executive Director of the Clean Air Fund, said in a statement.
The cost to human health, potential and productivity is immense— according to the World Bank, ambient air pollution alone cost the global economy US$5.7 trillion— 4.4 per cent of global GDP.
The same processes that cause air pollution also cause climate change, and some— like methane, black carbon and ozone, for example— have both immediate health impacts and powerful “climate forcing” power.
Climate change itself introduces yet another dimension of health impacts, both direct and indirect— from increases in heat waves, extreme weather incidences, flooding and sea level rise, and challenges to sanitation, food and water security, to rises in vector-borne diseases.
“Tackling air pollution offers us a really huge opportunity… not just to save millions of lives, but at the same time to avert dangerous climate change and to strengthen our economies,” said Burston, at the launch.
Financial commitments to seize the opportunity, though, make up a very small funding pot.
“We don’t have, anywhere, the basis that we need to tackle the crisis,” said Burston.
As part of the launch, the new Fund released a new report whose main finding was that, while foundation funding targeted at achieving clean air is increasing, the total amount of funding remains small in comparison to the health impacts and in comparison to the funding dedicated to other health issues.
Leading foundations have increased funding on outdoor air quality from approximately $9 million in 2015 to just under $30 million in 2018.
The launch of the Fund comes at a time where the opportunity that lies at the junction of clean air, climate change and health is increasing, as countries and other stakeholders race to find ways to deepen ambition on climate change.
The Climate Action Summit was meant to spur stepped-up action on climate change, as current commitments under the Paris Agreement do not add up to meeting the agreed target of 2 degrees Celsius, let alone its more stringent target of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
At the summit, 40 national and over 70 city governments, representing almost 800 million people, committed to achieving air that is safe to breathe by 2030, through implementing air quality and climate change policies that would achieve WHO ambient air quality guidelines, tracking lives saved and health gains, and sharing progress through platforms including BreatheLife.
In parallel, over 10,000 cities of the Global Covenant of Mayors announced a commitment to focusing on achieving air quality that is safe for citizens and to aligning climate change and air pollution policies by 2030.