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Govts urged to align with UN’s Clean Air Initiative

Ahead of the upcoming 2019 Climate Action Summit, the United Nations, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) and Climate and Clean Air Coalition announced on Tuesday, July 23, 2019 the “Clean Air Initiative”, calling on governments at all levels to join the Initiative.

Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba
Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Climate Action Summit

According to the UN, the “Clean Air Initiative” calls on national and subnational governments to commit to achieving air quality that is safe for citizens, and to align climate change and air pollution policies by 2030.
According to WHO, each year, air pollution causes seven million premature deaths, of which 600,000 are children. According to the World Bank, air pollution costs the global economy an estimated $5.11 trillion in welfare losses, and in the 15 countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions, health impacts of air pollution are estimated to cost more than four per cent of GDP.

Meeting the Paris Agreement on climate change, however, could save over one million lives a year by 2050 and yield health benefits worth an estimated $54.1 trillion – about twice the costs of mitigation – through reduced air pollution alone.

Governments at all levels can join the Clean Air Initiative by committing to specific actions, including:

  • Implementing air quality and climate change policies that will achieve the WHO Ambient Air Quality Guideline values.
  • Implementing e-mobility and sustainable mobility policies and actions with the aim of making a decisive impact on road transport emissions.
  • Assessing 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.
  • Tracking progress, sharing experiences and best practices through an international network supported by the Breathelife Action Platform.

The announcement was made by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Climate Action Summit, Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, in New Delhi, India, following two days of meetings with representatives of governments, business and civil society.

“The climate crisis and the air pollution crisis are driven by the same factors and must be tackled by joint actions. Governments at all levels have both an urgent need and huge opportunity not only to address the climate crisis, but also to improve the health and save the lives of millions of people around the world, all while making progress on the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Ambassador de Alba. “We call on governments at all levels to step up to this challenge and bring powerful commitments and concrete plans to the upcoming Climate Action Summit.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, said: “Air pollution kills about million people every year, and nine out of 10 people globally breathe air that is not fit for human consumption. We need to agree unequivocally on the need for a world free of air pollution. We need all countries and cities to commit to meeting WHO standards for air quality.”

“The Secretary-General’s Climate Summit this year will be an important opportunity to secure strong commitments and investments in proven interventions for climate-resilient health systems, and in air quality monitoring and policy implementation.”

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is convening the Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23 and has called on government, business and civil society leaders to bring bold actions and much greater ambition.

The Clean Air Initiative has been developed as part of the Social and Political Drivers Action Area of the 2019 Climate Action Summit, led by WHO, together with the Governments of Peru and Spain, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and the International Labour Organisation.

The call to improve air quality is part of a wider movement to harness social and political drivers to improve people’s health, reduce inequities, promote social justice and maximise opportunities of decent work for all, while protecting the climate for future generations. At the Climate Action Summit, the coalition for Social and Political Drivers will commit to a healthier and safer future for all and call on governments and institutions to commit to act on health.

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