Clean air – time to celebrate or accelerate?

Authors: Maryke van Staden, Director of carbonn Climate Center and Felix Akrofi-Atitianti, Integrated Climate Action Officer, ICLEI World Secretariat

As we celebrate the first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies on 7 September 2020, it is time to reflect. How big a problem is air pollution today? What is happening to reduce harmful emissions that pollute our air, our climate, our lungs? Are we on track with reductions? Are we saving human lives through our actions?

It is time to celebrate and promote the good intentions, clear commitments, and the growing range of guidance, tools and resources to help us tackle air pollution.  Yet, we most definitely cannot celebrate on all fronts. Action has been lagging, despite clear scientific evidence that air pollution is impacting human lives and livelihoods.

According to the WHO, air pollution is the second leading cause of non-communicable diseases globally, after tobacco use. 29 percent of air pollution deaths are from lung cancer, 24 percent from stroke, 25 percent from heart disease and 43 percent from lung disease. These are shocking statistics. Consider that the data refers to people, human lives and human health.

Do you want to know more about air pollution, its health and environmental impacts? Experts have pulled together 20 questions and answers to guide you through this deadly form of pollution.

Action is needed by all levels of government, businesses, industries, and citizens – normal people who want to stay healthy and live a decent quality of life. ICLEI supports local action. “Local action moves the world” was ICLEI’s founding slogan, and it is still highly relevant in this day and age. With a focus on sustainable development, air pollution, climate change and the use of finite local resources, the organization supports subnational governments to scale up action in their territories. Below are a few examples of available support and guidance to local and regional governments around the globe.


From commitment to action

The need for data, information and knowledge is key to develop a coherent plan of action. To this end, ICLEI offers a global reporting system, working closely with CDP and other partners, to collect commitments and clear targets on air quality and climate action, through the CDP-ICLEI Unified Reporting System.

Subnational governments also report progress here through regular GHG inventories and their Climate Risk & Vulnerability Assessments, where the health sector is critical and often underestimated. Their climate and energy action plans, actions being implemented and investment made as well as investment needs are captured through increasingly robust annual reporting. ICLEI supports its network through data review, for example those cities and towns committed to the Global Covenant of Mayors (GCoM). Air quality has recently been identified as a priority issue by committed GCoM local governments.


Connecting climate and air quality – going beyond pilot projects

In the Urban Health and SLCP Reduction Project the World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), joined forces in a pilot project, working closely with the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) in collaboration with Ghana’s Ministry of Health, Ghana Health Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Ministry of Transport to mobilize the health and other sectors. The project started in Accra in late 2016, with support from the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC). The cooperation promoted air pollution reduction policies and strategies, with a series of capacity building, outreach, and advocacy actions delivered, supported by strong health and economic evidence.

ICLEI’s Solutions Gateway now includes a Solutions Package on Integrated Air Quality and Climate Action with Health Impacts addressing subnational governments. However, local action alone cannot achieve the desired impacts. ICLEI has also been exploring approaches to supporting Accra by directly addressing key national government ministries and sector agencies. By creating effective multilevel governance processes, improving institutional frameworks, and identifying financing options for necessary interventions to reduce SLCP emissions at the sub-national level, the scene is set to scale up air quality policies and action.


Accelerating local commitments and action

More than 30 new subnational government commitments have been registered to celebrate this International Day of Clean Air for blue skies.

Zooming in, the cities of Balikpapan and Bogor, Indonesia are committed to addressing air pollution and climate change. These cities are supported through the Urban-LEDS II project – a collaboration between UN-Habitat and ICLEI, funded by the European Union – to scale up climate action.

Bogor City has implemented the Clean Air for blue skies agenda in partnership with Clean Air Asia since 2019. It has joined the BreatheLife Campaign, and the city government has organized the preparation of the Bogor City Clean Air Action Plan Document in collaboration with Clean Air Asia and the Association of the Indonesia Municipalities (APEKSI) in order to improve clean air quality over the next five years. The Bogor City Government has developed regulations to address smoke-free areas, mass transportation, eco-buildings, and car-free days, to mention but a few.

It is heartwarming to see progress made over many years, with continued commitment and energy flowing into air quality projects. There are many examples of cities that have successfully been reducing air pollution levels. Activities range over time, with actions including the use of renewable energy, enabling clean fuels and non-motorized mobility in the transport sector, and building resilience in communities.


Ecomobility Alliance – joining forces, delivering together!

Suwon is committed and is showing progress. Hosting the EcoMobility World Festival in 2013, it set the wheels of change in motion by organizing the world’s first month-long presentation of innovation and forward-thinking urban transportation culture. 4,343 residents in Suwon city used a combination of walking, cycling, public transport, and various other ecomobile modes for the entire month of September.

ICLEI’s EcoMobility Alliance is a network of ambitious cities, led by innovators and visionaries, supported by experts and businesses, committed to building a sustainable mobility future that is efficient, people-centered, low emission and environmentally-friendly.  The Alliance reinforces the local governments’ commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by transforming the transportation systems and reconfiguring mobility patterns, with an aim to reduce automobile dependency and increase low-emission and people-centered mobility efforts.

ICLEI calls on all local and regional governments to commit to tackling climate change and drastically reducing air pollution. Plan and act now, embracing zero-emission and resilient and sustainable development across all sectors, with local stakeholders.


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