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‘The air that keeps us alive is making us sick’, warn UN experts on Clean Air Day |


For years, the World Health Organization has warned that practically all the air we breathe is polluted, and that it kills about seven million people a year: about 90% of those deaths occur in low and middle income countries.

In 2019, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution designating September 7 as “International Day of Clean Air for Blue Sky”, while emphasizing the urgent need to raise public awareness in the region. at all levels, promote and facilitate actions to improve air quality.

Five years have passed, WHO scientists have concluded that the impact of air pollution is much lower than previously thought; Is the international community taking this issue seriously? And, importantly, what can be done about it?

To discuss the deadly issue, UN News spoke with two experts from the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a group chaired by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP): Martina Otto, chief secretariat, and Nathan Borgford-Parnell, scientific affairs coordinator.

Martina Otto Air pollution is often considered a very local, national problem. Many countries have made efforts to reduce emissions, but certainly not to the extent necessary.

And since pollutants are moving through the air and often over long distances, we can’t tackle this with isolation measures. That’s the atmosphere we share and that means we have to share solutions too.


Air pollution in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is leading to a host of health problems for the city's residents.

© UNICEF / Habibul Haque

Air pollution in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is leading to a host of health problems for the city’s residents.

United Nations News How has the situation developed in recent years?

Nathan Borgford-Parnell Air quality has not improved significantly over the past decade and the World Health Organization (WHO), using a very rigorous process for many years, has released new air quality guidelines. around last year, to cut down on the health effects of fine particulate matter. half (from 10 microns to 5 microns).

United Nations News Low- and middle-income countries were identified as the hardest hit regions in the world. Why so?

Nathan Borgford-Parnell Population groups there have particular vulnerabilities, related to the technologies they use to cook, heat their homes, drive vehicles and the type of energy commonly used. use.

In addition, there are factors related to the age of the population, the very young and the elderly are particularly vulnerable, often without the means and ability to access health care. UN News How would you rate the amount of cooperation taking place today compared to previous years?

Martina Otto We have just completed our third assessment of Africa, bringing this issue to the table between governments. We’ve used those area reviews to discuss issues, and we’d love to start looking at that and we’ll see where it takes us. But we hope to see more regional cooperation.

It’s not a blame game anymore. It’s about looking at solutions together, working together. It’s a sustainability issue: the very thing that makes us all breathe makes us sick.

United Nations News The right to a clean environment was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in July. Why is this important?

Martina Otto Because air pollution is a problem that affects all of us, Nathan explains, and disproportionately affects the most vulnerable.

There is also an economic and gender issue in this regard. For example, air pollution may be bad in a certain city, but the level of pollution also depends a lot on the neighborhood, where certain industries are located, where the wind blows.

We know that pollution is actually greater in poor neighborhoods, so there is a real problem of environmental injustice.


The transition to renewable energy will cut air pollution levels

© Unsplash

The transition to renewable energy will cut air pollution levels

United Nations News What worries you most about the link between climate change and air pollution?

Nathan Borgford-Parnell What worries me is that we might not have enough people to realize that There is no separation between air pollution and climate change.

Wildfires are man-made, but some people try to act as if they occurred naturally. But the dizzying rise of wildfires in recent years, and modeling that says we’ll continue to see them increase worldwide in places we can’t even imagine, shows us that Climate change will directly affect the burden of disease caused by air pollution caused by forest fires.

And air pollution impacts climate: there is no air pollutant that doesn’t impact climate. Not available. Greenhouse gases, aerosols, pollutants, all affect the climate. The link between air pollution and climate change is growing.

However, the great benefit of the fact that these things are interconnected, and we can combine climate and air quality issues in public health communities, and promote them. towards solutions that benefit everyone.

That is the powerful message of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, and why people have been so excited to join us over the past decade.


Vehicle emissions, diesel generators, biomass burning and garbage all contribute to poor air quality in Lagos Lagoon in Nigeria.  (2016 file)

© UNICEF / Bindra

Vehicle emissions, diesel generators, biomass burning and garbage all contribute to poor air quality in Lagos Lagoon in Nigeria. (2016 file)

United Nations News The United Nations Climate Cop 27 will take place in November. Will air pollution be an important part of the discussions there?

Martina Otto There will be a number of events surrounding this issue. I think the message is gaining popularity, in the sense that people are already able to see the effects.

We know what we need to do. There are plenty of solutions that make economic sense and can get the job done. We just have to get them to scale, and put the political will behind that.

For example, ending open burning of waste to let methane out and managing the waste in an appropriate way also makes good sense because there are economic opportunities in the process.

The same goes for transportation, the way we design our cities to reduce the need for transportation and make walking and cycling safer, reducing the need for fossil fuel options by looking at alternative fuels.

There is a long list of solutions, but they are very specific and they really improve the way we live in our cities.

You can listen to the full discussion on top UN news podcasts, The lid is on.




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