Global efforts to reduce air pollution and its effects are given a boost today, the first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, as extreme episodes of air pollution continue to increase across the globe.
The international day, designated by the UN General Assembly in 2019 and whose observance is facilitated by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), highlights the urgent need to promote actions to improve air quality and guarantee air pure for everyone on the whole planet.
In many parts of the world, extreme air pollution events have become a seasonal phenomenon. In early November, New Delhi and other cities in northern India experience levels of air pollution that have caused the cancellation of flights and have forced people to stay indoors. In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and Bangkok, Thailand, these events occur in January and February. In California and Australia, climate change has fueled summer wildfires, causing habitat destruction and covering vast areas in suffocating haze.
These are examples of a crisis that affects us all: air pollution constitutes the greatest environmental risk to human health and is one of the main preventable causes of death and disease. 7 million people die prematurely every year in the world due to complications caused by air pollution, and millions more live with disabilities due to this problem, which also affects the health of other species and that of the planet.
“Around the world, nine out of ten people breathe unclean air. The scope of this challenge requires determined action by governments, businesses and communities to end dependence on fossil fuels in favor of renewable, clean and affordable energy”, said the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, in his message about the day.
Air pollution not only threatens people’s health, it also has negative impacts on plants and ecosystems. Ozone pollution alone is responsible for the loss of 52 million tons of crops each year worldwide.
Many greenhouse gases and air pollutants are also accelerating the climate crisis, which means that this problem not only harms health and quality of life today, but also makes the future less secure for generations to come.
“I am very pleased to celebrate the first International Clean Air Day for a blue sky. I hope this event will help raise global public awareness of transboundary air pollution and become an important milestone in efforts to leverage cleaner air solutions”, said Moon Jae-in, President of the Republic of Korea, Global Host of the Day.
Today, practical and cost-effective solutions are available to address this challenge. Pollutant emissions know no international borders and, therefore, countries must work together to prioritize measures to reduce air pollution and invest in them. Research shows that renewable energy is more profitable today than ever.
International Day of Clean Air for blue skies calls for greater international cooperation at the global, regional and subregional levels. Provides a platform to strengthen global solidarity, as well as to increase ambitions and political momentum for action against air pollution and climate change, including measures such as increased data collection on air quality, conducting joint research, the development of new technologies and the exchange of best practices.
“Air pollution is the greatest environmental risk to human health, it has a disproportionate impact on the poorest and environmental costs due to health expenditures, loss of productivity, reduction of agricultural yields or reduction in the competitiveness of cities” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP.
“The lockdowns from COVID-19 showed us that cleaner skies are possible. That people are willing to listen to science. That we can act quickly to protect human health. We must take urgent action to eradicate smog. If we do so, we can save millions of lives and billions of dollars each year”, added Andersen.
“In the face of global challenges posed by air pollution, climate change, social and economic inequalities, and the current COVID-19 pandemic, we have an opportunity to build back better”, said CEO Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Many governments have already taken steps to align health, air pollution and climate policies. Now is the time to rethink how we organize our societies, our cities, our transportation, and how we cook and heat our homes, for the sake of health”, he said.