This is a Climate and Clean Air Coalition story.
Air pollution affects us all to some degree. Whether we live in highly polluted cities or the countryside, there is no escaping the impact dirty air has on our bodies and—as is now becoming apparent—our minds. Seven million people die every year from breathing unclean air. The good news is that these deaths are preventable, and that many governments around the world have taken steps to reduce air pollutants to protect their citizens and the planet.
In Synergizing Action on the Environment and Climate, a report released in September 2019, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), China’s Tsinghua University, and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition take stock of how a growing number of countries are addressing climate, air pollution and sustainable development as closely linked challenges with common solutions.
The report shows that China and other countries’ air pollution and climate policies drive climate ambition and deliver immediate and long-term air quality and economic benefits, especially when governments integrate environment, development and climate policies across different ministries and at local and national levels.
China has made co-governance a key part of its climate and clean air strategy. And this model is being successfully replicated. Case studies from six countries—Chile, Finland, Ghana, Mexico, Norway, and the United Kingdom—show how developed and developing countries are using co-governance to ensure their policies are harmonized and consider the benefits from mitigating climate change and reducing air pollution.
Speaking at the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s High-Level Assembly where he launched the report, Xie Zhenhua, China’s Special Representative on Climate Change Affairs and President of Tsinghua University’s Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development, said: “Many governments increasingly recognize that co-governance is an effective way to build consensus and rally support for low-carbon climate strategies for which immediate benefits are hard to see. But most people can see and feel the benefits of air pollution control, urban infrastructure retrofits and clean energy development. Besides, by killing multiple birds with one stone, co-governance of the climate, environment and development is cost-effective and achieves greater economic, social, environmental and climate benefits. It works in China, and I am sure it will work in other countries.”
The country case studies in the report show how environmental and climate co-governance is advancing rapidly all over the world, and in countries at every stage of economic development, but also that harmonized governance is a process that must be backed by science. In each case, the countries assessed their policies and measures to find out how they benefit climate change mitigation, air quality, health and socio-economic development.
Ola Elvestuen, Minister of Climate and Environment of Norway, said: “This type of analysis assists governments in compiling a portfolio of measures that contributes both to reducing the short-term rate of warming as well as safeguarding the long-term perspectives of the Paris Agreement.”
For many countries, the local benefits and immediate results of action, both for air quality and climate change mitigation, are important development concerns and a key ingredient for greater ambition to reduce emissions. Quantifying the impact of policies on public health was a key driver for action in all cases, even in Finland which has relatively low air polluting emissions.
Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, encouraged cooperation at all levels of government to support comprehensive governance of climate and air pollution. In her foreword to the report, she notes that taking an integrated approach enables countries to make regulatory and policy decisions that can maximize benefits at the local and global level. “There are so many win-win opportunities that are ready for us to seize.” she wrote. “Wins for the climate, wins for the earth and wins for all of us who call this planet home.”
Helena Molin Valdés, Head of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition Secretariat, said more countries need to start developing integrated approaches for climate and clean air. “A growing number of countries see co-governance as a key strategy to achieve domestic development agendas while simultaneously meeting international sustainable development and climate change goals. But this is still not the norm,” Molin Valdés said. “The Climate and Clean Air Coalition will continue its work with governments to raise awareness about the multiple benefits of integrated air pollution and climate action, develop planning tools, and build capacity to support the increase use of such approaches.”
The report includes a set of policy recommendations for China and the world to build on. Global recommendations include exploring and implementing co-governance approaches to harmonize climate and environmental policy, particularly in their nationally determined contributions; sharing of good practice and tools between international and regional organizations, and nations and regions; making integrated assessments of climate and air quality strategies common practice to support robust and harmonized policymaking.