Success stories and experiences on tackling clean air for health, environment and climate have streamed in from cities, regions and countries as the world marks the first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies.
From Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to Washington, D.C. in the United States, through cities, regions and countries in Asia, Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean and North America, governments* have shared their successes, struggles and plans on their respective clean air journeys as they race towards the goal of achieving air that is safe and healthy to breathe.
Among the success stories were the joint efforts by the governments of Mongolia and its capital Ulaanbaatar to enhance the insulation of buildings, improve the efficiency of stoves and replace raw coal with refine coal briquettes, which together saw concentrations of fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) drop 52 per cent in the winter of 2019.
“We set a huge goal to reduce air pollution by 80 per cent in the coming years,” said Deputy Mayor of Ulaanbaatar Munkhjargal Dashnyam.
Another is the world’s first continuous Ultra Low Emissions Zone, which has contributed to reducing central London’s nitrogen dioxide levels by 44 per cent; the city’s government calculates that this and other policies aimed at tackling air pollution will save its National Health Service around £5 billion and more than one million hospital admissions over the next 30 years.
In Kigali, Rwanda, on the City Council’s twice-monthly Car Free Days, concentrations of particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) near car-free roads fall by about half, with Kigali’s Mayor, Rubingisa Pudence, noting that this impact on air quality “does not go unnoticed”, providing a visceral awareness raising opportunity.
Other cities are serving up a win for clean, active transport. Facilities for cyclists and pedestrians are being scaled up in many cities to facilitate safe social distancing; some, like Barranquilla, Bogotá and Mexico City continue to speed ahead on expanding cycleway networks, emphases on public transport, and connectivity between the two. Bogotá is investing billions of dollars in action to reduce air pollution.
The Philippines’ Iloilo City contributed a learning experience, successfully changing tack and adjusting interventions when its emissions inventory sprung a surprise: indoor pollution from the burning of solid fuel turned out to be a major source of air pollutants in the city, previously not even regarded as an issue, with media and public attention trained largely on vehicle emissions.
Many city governments note that networks to share stories and experiences like these are crucial to working together to solve the common challenge of air pollution, and, more than ever, they are linking it to its significant health impacts, climate change and liveability.
Acting on this conviction, Suwon city took the initiative to unite South Korea’s 80 metropolitan/provincial and local governments towards overcoming the combined challenge under a new Korean Local Governments Coalition for Net Zero Actions, which calls for practical actions towards net-zero cities by 2050; it also spearheaded the Declaration of Climate Emergency, in which all 226 local governments unite towards carbon neutrality.
Some governments also acknowledged the transboundary nature of air pollution, and recognized the need to connect local to regional and national action and to work across jurisdictions.
And many of them have their sights on the goal of meeting World Health Organization Air Quality Guidelines by 2030, having pledged it under initiatives like the C40 Clean Air Cities Declaration, the UN Clean Air Initiative, and BreatheLife.
Cities are also celebrating the day itself with festivities and activities, taking the opportunity to raise awareness of air pollution and related issues within and beyond their jurisdictions through workshops, photo and design competitions, dialogues, and bazaars.
The debut of the new International Day comes at an unexpectedly appropriate time— action to contain the COVID-19 pandemic has led to falls in air pollution in many cities across the world, making for dramatic reveals of blue skies as the backdrop to iconic landmarks, and has prompted consideration of what constitutes a “green recovery” and how to build back better.
Аir pollution is the single greatest environmental risk to human health and one of the main avoidable causes of death and disease globally across the world attributed to indoor and outdoor air pollution.
The WHO estimates that it causes 7 million premature deaths each year, and the World Bank and OECD estimates that it racks up a bill in the billions of dollars in lost labour and productivity.
The burden is largely borne by developing countries, in which women, children and the elderly are then disproportionately affected, especially in low-income populations as they are often exposed to high levels of ambient air pollution and indoor air pollution from cooking and heating with wood fuel and kerosene.
Find out what governments* are doing to beat air pollution and improve the lives of their citizens:
A full list of events happening on 7-8 September is available here.
*Stories are still coming in. The governments whose stories are available at the time of writing at the link above are:
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Aburra Valley, Colombia
Bogor City, Indonesia
Iloilo City, Philippines
Jambi City, Indonesia
Los Angeles, USA
Manila City, Philippines
Metropolitan Area of Guadalajara, Mexico
Mexico City, Mexico
Nuevo Leon, Mexico
Quezon City, Philippines
Suwon City, Republic of Korea
Washington, D.C., United States of America
State of Querétaro, Mexico
Bataan Province, Philippines
Jalisco State, Mexico
Trinidad & Tobago
Banner photo by WHO/Yoshi Shimizu ©WHO