On the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies 2022, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Inger Andersen, calls for urgent action on regulation, monitoring and regional cooperation to combat air pollution:
Every breath we take keeps us alive. Every breath we take is killing us. This is the paradox humanity caused when we created economies and societies that pollute the air.
99 per cent of the world breathes unsafe air. Short-lived climate pollutants are driving almost half of global warming. This global warming is fanning the flames of devastating wildfires and darkening the skies with ash and harmful particles.
Pollution – of the air, land and water – climate change, and nature and biodiversity loss together form the triple planetary crisis. This triple crisis is a global emergency that only urgent and decisive action can solve.
We must switch to renewable energy. Help 2.4 billion people switch to clean household energy solutions. Invest in clean transport. Put agricultural and municipal waste to use in a circular economy instead of burning it. Use nature-based solutions to cool our cities, filter our air and build buffers against natural disasters.
To achieve all of this, we must focus on three areas:
One, implement laws and regulations to meet WHO standards on air quality. The UN General Assembly recently recognized the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. We need laws to ensure this universal right is respected – ensuring institutional responsibility, transparency and accountability. As of December 2020, 64 per cent of countries had embedded air quality in legislation. We need to get to 100 per cent.
Two, measure air quality. Many countries lack monitoring equipment and analytical capacity to identify sources of pollution and keep track of the impact of actions. But low-cost monitoring equipment and digital technologies open new avenues to accelerate real time measurements and direct community engagement. We must use them.
Three, prioritize regional cooperation. Air pollutants carry across borders. Solutions need to cross borders too. The Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution has already reduced transboundary air pollution in Europe and North America. The UNEP-convened Climate and Clean Air Coalition has developed regional assessments and networks to provide a basis for concerted action. We must build on this work.
Through this year’s theme of Clean Air for Blue Skies Day, The Air We Share, we call upon governments to unite and invest in regional air quality programmes and put the full force of the law behind cleaning the air. We all share one atmosphere. We must work together to protect it.
Every year, on 7 September, the world celebrates the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies. The day aims to raise awareness and facilitate actions to improve air quality. It is a global call to find new ways of doing things, to reduce the amount of air pollution we cause, and ensure that everyone, everywhere can enjoy their right to breathe clean air. The theme of the third annual International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, facilitated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), is “The Air We Share.”