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Clean Air for all: towards a global community of action

Greenpeace activists at the Suralaya coal power plant in Cilegon city, Banten Province, Indonesia. © Rendra Hernawan / Greenpeace

Today 7 September is the first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies launched by the United Nations’ General Assembly. It aims to build a global community of action that calls on countries to work together to tackle air pollution and provide clean air for all. As the Covid-19 lockdowns reminded us of from Wuhan to Los Angeles to New Dehli, air pollution is not a fatality and can drop dramatically when sources of emission cease as a result of political decisions. In many places around the world, people rediscovered for the first time in decades what clean air looks like. In his keynote address, the secretary-general of the United Nations António Guterres urges:

We need dramatic and systemic change. Reinforced environmental standards, policies and laws that prevent emissions of air pollutants are needed more than ever. Countries also need to end subsidies for fossil fuels. And, at the international level, countries need to cooperate to help each other transition to clean technologies. 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.

Why it matters. Air pollution is identified since long as the single greatest environmental risk to human health and one of the main avoidable causes of death and disease globally, with 7 million premature deaths across the world attributed to indoor and outdoor air pollution, more than from Malaria, Tuberculosis and AIDS combined. Also, all major air pollutants have an impact on the climate and most share common sources with greenhouse gases (GHGs), especially related to the combustion of fossil fuels. As citizens mobilize for cleaner air and greater protection of their health, effective sanitary regulations by city or district authorities have proven one of the most powerful instruments to both rein in toxic emissions and address the climate emergency. But countries must quick get their act together and lead the systemic change needed through greater international cooperation.