In a message, UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the dangers posed by air pollution and urged greater efforts to address it.
“Air pollution contributes to heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases; [it] also threatens the economy, food security and the environment,” he said.
We need dramatic and systemic change. Reinforced environmental standards, policies and laws that prevent emissions of air pollutants are needed more than ever – UN Secretary-General
“As we recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the world needs to pay far greater attention to air pollution, which also increases the risks associated with COVID-19,” he added.
Globally, nine out of every ten people breathe unclean air, and air pollution causes an estimated seven million premature deaths every year, predominantly in low- and middle-income countries.
This year, while the lockdowns associated with the global pandemic led to dramatic falls in emissions – providing a glimpse of cleaner air in many cities – emissions are already rising again, in some places surpassing pre-COVID levels.
“We need dramatic and systemic change. Reinforced environmental standards, policies and laws that prevent emissions of air pollutants are needed more than ever,” stressed Mr. Guterres.
Climate action and clean air
Addressing climate change can also cut back air pollution.
“Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees will help reduce air pollution, death and disease,” said the Secretary-General, calling on countries to end subsidies for fossil fuels as well as to use post-COVID recovery packages to support the transition to healthy and sustainable jobs.
“I call on governments still providing finance for fossil fuel-related projects in developing countries to shift that support towards clean energy and sustainable transport.”
“At the international level,” he added, “countries need to cooperate to help each other transition to clean technologies.”
WHO video | Air pollution and health: How will our children continue to breathe?
The International Day
The International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, to be commemorated on 7 September annually, was established in 2019 by the UN General Assembly, which recognized the importance of clean air and the impact of air pollution on human health and ecosystems, in particular its disproportionate affect on women, children and older persons.
The resolution emphasized “the need to strengthen international cooperation at the global, regional and subregional levels in various areas related to improving air quality, including the collection and utilization of data, joint research and development, and the sharing of best practices.”
The International Day aims to raise awareness clean air is important for health, productivity, the economy and the environment; demonstrate the close link of air quality to other environmental and developmental challenges such as climate change; promote solutions that improve air quality by sharing actionable knowledge best practices, innovations, and success stories; and bring together diverse actors for concerted national, regional and international approaches for effective air quality management.
Around the world, UN agencies, governments, civil society organizations and NGOs organized several events – many virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic – to commemorate the International Day and spur action. These include discussions and webinars, musical performances, documentary screenings, exhibitions, and donating plants and trees.
Individuals too can play a part: by cycling to work, not burning trash (it causes air pollution), and pressuring local authorities to improve green spaces in cities, everyone can contribute to making the air cleaner and skies bluer.