International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, was designated 7 September by the United Nations General Assembly in 2019.
This follows the international community’s increasing interest in clean air and emphasises the need to make further efforts to improve air quality to protect human health.
Often, you can’t see air pollution, but it is everywhere. Air pollution causes approximately 7 million premature deaths annually, making it the single greatest environmental risk to human health and one of the main avoidable causes of death and disease globally. A UNEP report found that one in five premature deaths in the Western Balkans was down due to pollution, but air pollution knows no national borders. A study suggests that pollution in China could be increasing the strength of cyclones forming over the Pacific Ocean and even spreading contaminates into the western states of the United States.
Air pollution disproportionately affects children and the elderly, and has a negative impact on ecosystems. Many air pollutants contribute directly to the climate crisis and improving air quality can enhance climate change mitigation. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, also recognizes that air pollution abatement is critical to attain the Sustainable Development Goals.
This International Day of Clean Air for blue skies aims to build a global community of action that encourages countries to work together to tackle air pollution to ensure clean air for all. To this end, it gives people a platform that can enable cooperation to mitigate air pollution at the individual, national, regional, as well as international levels.
What can be done
Air pollution is preventable, but we need everyone on board–from individuals to private companies to governments.
The International Community can come together to develop a global approach to air pollution and integrate air pollution actions with climate change mitigation. Air pollution is a development issue with most of the poorest in the world disproportionately impacted. The international community can:
- Help national governments improve their ability to plan and implement emissions reductions and monitor progress in reducing air pollution.
- Steer investment to renewable and cleaner electricity generation, moving away from fossil-based electricity, to enable cleaner electric mobility, meet increased demand for cooling, electrical appliances, and clean cooking.
- Support developing countries move away from using polluting fuels for energy and biomass for cooking.
- Reduce methane emissions, thus reducing ozone pollution and its impacts on health, crop productivity, and forest growth.
Governments and policy makers have an important role to play in protecting their citizens by making structural changes that improves air quality. They can invest in processes that lead to better planning to reduce air pollution and build the capacity needed to deliver clean air. Policies can create an enabling environment that allows clean technology and businesses to flourish. Potential actions include:
- Improving air quality monitoring and developing emission inventories and mitigation scenarios.
- Rethink cities to reduce transport demand and provide sustainable and clean transport systems, shift to e-mobility, and encourage walking and cycling, all of which leads to a healthier population.
- Ending fossil fuel subsidies and investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure, and instead using that money to reduce sources of air pollution and invest cleaner energy solutions.
- Move away from cooking, heating, and lighting with biomass and other polluting fuels by investing in cleaner alternatives.
The private sector can drive rapid change and profit from providing solutions. In the last 10 years, for example, we’ve seen a global swing toward electrical vehicles, driven by innovation and government support. Consumers are demanding more environmentally friendly products and businesses can help by:
- Tracking and reducing air pollutants and greenhouse gases from facilities and supply chains.
- Investing in and promoting products, solutions, and technologies that cut emissions and reduce pollution.
- Using recycled and recyclable materials in products and packaging, reducing and waste from production cycles, moving toward renewable energy sources, and by opting for energy-efficient transport.
- Building networks with like-minded businesses to promote ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable business ideas that reduce air pollution.
There are also things we can do as individuals in our daily lives to make a difference. From cycling to work, to recycling non-organic trash and composting organic waste, to lobbying local authorities to improve green spaces in our cities. Here are some other ideas:
- Encourage and support your government and businesses to take measures to improve air quality.
- Conserve energy, turn-off lights and electronics when not in use, use appliances with high energy-efficiency ratings in your home. This will reduce emissions and save money.
- Check efficiency ratings for home heating systems and cook-stoves, favouring fuels and technologies that reduce emissions and protect health;
What else can we do to tackle this problem?
We can all share ideas on social media using the hashtags #WorldCleanAirDay and #HealthyAirHealthyPlanet
Test your knowledge of air pollution by taking our quizzes.
Check this space in the coming weeks for more details on this year’s campaign and don’t forget to sign up to receive updates in the run-up to the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies.