Forty national and over 70 city governments, representing almost 800 million people, have 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.
Governments of cities, regions and countries are already sharing and showcasing experiences as members of the BreatheLife campaign. They were joined today by seven new governments, including the capitals of Peru and France, which made fresh commitments to demonstrate their dedication to bringing air quality to safe levels by 2030 and collaborate on clean air solutions that would help the world get there faster.
Lima, Paris, the Canadian city of Montreal, Colombia’s second-biggest city Medellín, the Spanish province of Pontevedra, and the Indonesian cities of Balikpapan and Jambi bring the number of cities, regions and countries in the BreatheLife Network to 70, representing hundreds of millions of citizens around the world.
These two announcements come at the UN’s Climate Action Summit in New York, where governments are gathering to discuss and examine possibilities to ramping up action on climate change at the behest of the organization’s Secretary-General, António Guterres.
The Prime Minister of Peru, Salvador Del Solar, made the first announcement at the Climate Action Summit in a segment on people-centred action.
The Government of Peru, along with the Government of Spain, the World Health Organization, the UN Department Economic and Social Affairs and the International Labour Organization lead the coalition on Social and Political Drivers of Climate Action, tasked with developing initiatives to improve health, reduce inequalities, promote social justice and maximize decent work opportunities, while protecting the climate.
The coalition drew up the clean air and health commitment, which essentially urges signatories to incorporate health costs and benefits of climate action in a comprehensive way into policymaking on climate change and air pollution.
The precise commitment asks countries to:
• Implement air quality and climate change policies that will achieve the WHO Ambient Air Quality Guideline values.
• Implement e-mobility and sustainable mobility policies and actions with the aim of making a decisive impact on road transport emissions.
• Assess the number of lives that are saved, the health gains in children and other vulnerable groups, and the avoided financial costs to health systems, that result from implementing their policies.
• Track progress, share experience and best practice through the BreatheLife Action Platform.
Many of the same practices that lead to climate change also result in deadly air pollution, which claims the lives of 7 million people each year, stunts intellectual development and otherwise affects almost every major organ in the body, exacting a trillion-dollar toll on human welfare and productivity.
Secretary-General Guterres highlighted the health impacts of both air pollution and climate change as a compelling reason to act more quickly on climate change.
“We see (air pollution) killing 7 million people per year in the world, we see tropical diseases moving north and becoming a threat to countries in the developed world. So, it’s not only the question of the glaciers that melt or the corals that bleach that sometimes people feel are a little bit more far away. No, it’s the things that are now related to our daily life.
This is something that people should be more and more aware of, and this will be, I believe, a very strong instrument to put pressure on governments to act,” he said.
Visiting the iconic Pollution Pods art installation at UN Headquarters in New York, climate activist Greta Thunberg, whose school strike for climate ignited a powerful global youth movement, agreed.
“I think, definitely, if we see that clear connection (across climate change, air pollution and health), then it makes it much easier to connect the dots… everything is so connected, the climate crisis and air pollution are just so connected, and we cannot solve one without solving the other,” she said.
Indeed, the Social and Political Drivers of Climate Action was one of nine multi-stakeholder coalitions set up by the UN to examine and mine solutions from “connecting the dots”, developing “initiatives that demonstrate major shifts towards carbon neutrality by 2050 in the economy or provide credible solutions to lower the financial and social costs of transition in support of enhanced actions by countries”.
At the pre-Summit side events this weekend, subnational governments were already deep into discussions on this front, with subnational government representatives from all major regions discussing climate action in the context of health, equality and social justice, among other sustainable development links.
“We need full cost accounting— so, for example, we are working to transition our entire bus fleet to electric, we know it’s not just good for climate but also good for health in terms of reduction of particular matter and reduction of noise, but we need full cost account not just of greenhouse gas reductions but also health impacts of the changes that we make,” said Mayor of Victoria, Canada, Lisa Helps, in a session on Infrastructure, Cities and Local Action: Science for 1.5 degree C.
“Local government is starting to connect the dots, realizing that it is not just about the usual (isolated) fields of transport, waste management, energy… it is also about water supply, nature-based solutions, the connection between nature-based solutions and cities,” said Leader of Climate & Energy Practice, WWF International, Manuel Pulgar Vidal at an event on local leadership for climate.
At the Summit on Monday, a new philanthropic fund was announced: the Clean Air Fund, set up to achieve clean air for all, which has already raised $50 million in new commitments, halfway towards the Fund’s target of $100 million, and counts among its first donors the IKEA Foundation, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Oak Foundation, Bernard Van Leer Foundation, Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Charity and the FAA Foundation.
“I urge the leaders gathered here today to respond to the World Health Organization’s call to action and to put tackling air pollution at the top of your agenda, because clean air is a human rights and together we can make it a human reality,” said Managing Director of the Clean Air Fund, Jane Burston.
Guterres recently emphasized that the world was “losing the race” for a safe and stable climate; the Paris Agreement on climate change commits the world’s governments to keeping global temperature rise to a top of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial levels, but current pledges add up to a 3 degree rise.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that warming needs to be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid dramatic and irreversible impacts of climate change.
Actions to reduce air pollution also have significant climate benefits. A recent report by UN Environment highlighted 25 air quality measures that, if taken, would have one billion people in the Asia Pacific breathing clean air by 2030 and would reduce warming by one-third of a degree Celsius by 2050 – a significant contribution to global climate efforts.