UN Calls on Governments to Join Clean Air Initiative, Bring Realistic Plan to Sept Summit

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Bennett Oghifo

The United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) and Climate and Clean Air Coalition have announced the “Clean Air Initiative”, calling on governments at all levels to join the Initiative.

This recently call is coming ahead of the upcoming 2019 Climate Action Summit in New York in September. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres has also urged all leaders to attend with concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050.

The UN Secretary-General said, “I want to hear about how we are going to stop the increase in emissions by 2020, and dramatically reduce emissions to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century

“To be effective and credible, these plans cannot address mitigation alone: they must show the way toward a full transformation of economies in line with sustainable development goals. They should not create winners and losers or add to economic inequality; they must be fair and create new opportunities and protections for those negatively impacted, in the context of a just transition. And they should also include women as key decision-makers: only gender-diverse decision-making has the capacity to tackle the different needs that will emerge in this coming period of critical transformation.”

The Summit will bring together governments, the private sector, civil society, local authorities and other international organisations to develop ambitious solutions in six areas: a global transition to renewable energy; sustainable and resilient infrastructures and cities; sustainable agriculture and management of forests and oceans; resilience and adaptation to climate impacts; and alignment of public and private finance with a net zero economy.

“Business is on our side. Accelerated climate solutions can strengthen our economies and create jobs, while bringing cleaner air, preserving natural habitats and biodiversity, and protecting our environment.

“New technologies and engineering solutions are already delivering energy at a lower cost than the fossil-fuel driven economy. Solar and onshore wind are now the cheapest sources of new bulk power in virtually all major economies. But we must set radical change in motion.

“This means ending subsidies for fossil fuels and high-emitting agriculture and shifting towards renewable energy, electric vehicles and climate-smart practices. It means carbon pricing that reflects the true cost of emissions, from climate risk to the health hazards of air pollution. And it means accelerating the closure of coal plants and halting the construction of new ones and replacing jobs with healthier alternatives so that the transformation is just, inclusive and profitable.”

The “Clean Air Initiative” calls on national and subnational governments to commit to achieving air quality that is safe for citizens, and to align climate change and air pollution policies by 2030.
According to WHO, each year, air pollution causes 7 million premature deaths, of which 600,000 are children. According to the World Bank, air pollution costs the global economy an estimated US$5.11 trillion in welfare losses, and in the 15 countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions, health impacts of air pollution are estimated to cost more than 4 per cent of GDP.

Meeting the Paris Agreement on climate change, however, could save over 1 million lives a year by 2050 and yield health benefits worth an estimated US$54.1 trillion – about twice the costs of mitigation – through reduced air pollution alone.
Governments at all levels can join the Clean Air Initiative by committing to specific actions, including: Implementing air quality and climate change policies that will achieve the WHO Ambient Air Quality Guideline values. Implementing e-mobility and sustainable mobility policies and actions with the aim of making a decisive impact on road transport emissions. Assessing the number of lives that are saved, the health gains in children and other vulnerable groups, and the avoided financial costs to health systems that result from implementing their policies. Tracking progress, sharing experiences and best practices through an international network supported by the Breathelife Action Platform.

The announcement was made today by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Climate Action Summit, Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, in New Delhi, India, following two days of meetings with representatives of governments, business and civil society.

“The climate crisis and the air pollution crisis are driven by the same factors and must be tackled by joint actions. Governments at all levels have both an urgent need and huge opportunity not only to address the climate crisis, but also to improve the health and save the lives of millions of people around the world, all while making progress on the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Ambassador de Alba. “We call on governments at all levels to step up to this challenge and bring powerful commitments and concrete plans to the upcoming Climate Action Summit.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO said: “Air pollution kills about 7 million people every year, and 9 out of 10 people globally breathe air that is not fit for human consumption. We need to agree unequivocally on the need for a world free of air pollution. We need all countries and cities to commit to meeting WHO standards for air quality.”
“The Secretary-General’s Climate Summit this year will be an important opportunity to secure strong commitments and investments in proven interventions for climate-resilient health systems, and in air quality monitoring and policy implementation.”

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is convening the Climate Action Summit in New York on 23 September and has called on government, business and civil society leaders to bring bold actions and much greater ambition.
The Clean Air Initiative has been developed as part of the Social and Political Drivers Action Area of the 2019 Climate Action Summit, led by WHO, together with the Governments of Peru and Spain, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and the International Labor Organisation.

The call to improve air quality is part of a wider movement to harness social and political drivers to improve people’s health, reduce inequities, promote social justice and maximize opportunities of decent work for all, while protecting the climate for future generations. At the Climate Action Summit, the coalition for Social and Political Drivers will commit to a healthier and safer future for all and call on governments and institutions to commit to act on health.