03 Jun 2019

Venue: International Environment House II (7-9 ch. de Balexert)

Organization: Geneva Environment Network

On 5 June 2019, World Environment Day focused on the theme of air pollution — a call for action to combat one of the greatest environmental emerging challenges of our time.

World Environment Day 2019

World Environment Day invites us all to consider how we can make changes in our daily lives to reduce air pollution, which in turn can both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and benefit people’s health.

Often you can’t even see it, but air pollution is everywhere and affects your health from head to toe. With every breath, you are probably sucking in tiny particles that attack your lungs, heart and brain.

Nine out of ten people worldwide are exposed to levels of air pollutants that exceed World Health Organization safe levels. Around seven million people worldwide die prematurely each year from air pollution, 5.6 million deaths are from noncommunicable diseases and 1.5 million from pneumonia. Air pollution causes a host of other problems, including illness and lower IQs. Beyond causing respiratory diseases, air pollution is a major cause of heart attacks, lung cancer and stroke in people.

It doesn’t just impact human health, it also impacts global warming, economic growth and our natural environment. Air pollution decreases the oxygen supply in our oceans, making it harder for plants to grow and as such, contributes to climate change. The good news is that air pollution is largely avoidable and its negative consequences are preventable. Solutions are known and can be implemented. The world needs to act now.

High-Level Dialogue Monday 3 June

To celebrate World Environment Day in Geneva, a High-Level Dialogue, organized within the Geneva Environment Network framework, discussed with key stakeholders based in the region, the successful experiences that need to be scaled-up to tackle air pollution at the global, regional, national and local levels, as a major contribution to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The event took place at the International Environment House on Monday 3 June, from 12:00-13:30, and was followed by a reception.


Opening statements

Bruno POZZI, Director, Europe Office, UN Environment Programme
Olga ALGAYEROVA, Executive Secretary, UNECE
Antonio HODGERS, President, State Council, Geneva Canton
Marc CHARDONNENS, State Secretary for the Environment, Switzerland

Dialogue on multi-level engagement to combat air pollution

Olga ALGAYEROVA, Executive Secretary, UNECE
Bruno POZZI, Director, Europe Office, UN Environment Programme
Nathalie ROEBBEL, Coordinator, Air Pollution and Urban Health, World Health Organization
Pavel KABAT, Chief Scientist, World Meteorological Organization
Marc CHARDONNENS, State Secretary for the Environment, Director of the Federal Office for the Environment, Switzerland
Philippe ROYER, Directeur, Service de l’air, du bruit et des rayonnements non ionisants, State of Geneva
Thierry LASSUS, CEO, ABB Sécheron Ltd.

Moderation: Pierre QUIBLIER, Programme Officer, Chemicals and Health Branch, UN Environment Programme

Reception offered by the Swiss Federal Council, State Council of the State of Geneva and Executive Councily of the City of Geneva


Opening statements

Bruno Pozzi, Director, Europe Office, UN Environment Programme

  • “Today is a very special day, not only for UNEP, but for all of us. We celebrate it once a year, but we should celebrate it every day.”
  • 90% of cities in the world have standards that are below the WHO standards
  • Governments, businesses and civil society have a role to play in fighting air pollution

Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary, UNECE

  • Clean air important for environment, health, …
  • Our member states, 40 years ago, agreed to the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, that UNECE hosts
  • Much progress made, but still a lot to be done

Antonio Hodgers, President, State Council, Geneva Canton

  • Almost everywhere in the world, breathing exposes us to undesirable substances – atmospheric pollution is a direct consequence of our way of live
  • “The Canton of Geneva has made the choice of prevention, with long-term actions aimed at the sources of pollution as well as measures to protect the population on more urgent term”
  • Framework of measures related to air pollution is the most complete of Switzerland and, in the future, cross-border measures should be adopted together with France to reduce peaks of pollution
  • “Experiences need to be scaled up to tackle air pollution at the global, regional, national and local level”
  • “Switzerland and Geneva are committed to contribute to multilateral system. Geneva hosts around 40 IO and 400 NGOs as well as 179 states in expertise in all areas of today’s critical issues, and particularly on the environment. This positions Geneva as a hub for environmental governance.”
  • Today, the governance of complex issues and systems, needs to be innovative and flexible – the Paris Climate Accord is a good example
  • “We know that the road to breathing clean air is still long, so let’s work together to do something about it”

Marc Chardonnens, State Secretary for the Environment, Switzerland

  • “Geneva is a center for global environmental policy. It is a place that has the potential, the expertise and the experience to address the challenge of air pollution.”
  • The Convention is successful thanks to their Parties’ emissions reduction, the sound science-policy interface and effective compliance mechanisms
  • Ratification of the Convention will lead to a reduction of health and environmental impacts of air pollution
  • Convention has already contributed to the capping of air pollutants’ emissions – reductions range from 40% to 80%
  • Convention successful thanks to the general framework’s additions in Geneva
  • Air pollution is a major global threat to human health and to the environment
  • Let us reflect the true cost of pollution by promoting carbon pricing, by investing in renewable energies, by eliminating fossil fuels’ subsidies
  • Need to share the practices that work among partners that want to reduce fossil fuel usage
  • “UNEP has to take on a leading role on fighting air pollution.”
  • “Geneva is the right place for this important work, providing facilities needed to be effective and efficient. We have to start in Geneva, but then reach out to all the regions in the world with adequate measures and adequate technologies”

Dialogue on multi-level engagement to combat air pollution

Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary, UNECE

  • 1979 – Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution
  • First international governance mechanism providing policy solutions to the problem
  • 8 additional Protocols
  • Entered into force in 1983
  • Important for SDG3 – health and well-being
  • Science-policy interface – common scientific understanding on the issue by all Parties
  • Compliance and capacity building help
  • Need for stronger cooperation – also with countries outside of UNECE area

Bruno Pozzi, Director, Europe Office, UN Environment Programme

  • Holistic approach: whole segments of society need to be mobilized if we want to achieve positive results
  • Environmental community united to deal with air pollution: would not see that 50 years ago – inter-sectorial and inter-organizational cooperation
  • UNEP brings the scientific base to assess air quality
  • Need the support of governments, municipalities, regions, businesses
  • Solutions that bring health and economic benefits
  • “Be advocates. Be part of the fight. We all have a role to play.”

Nathalie Roebbel, Coordinator, Air Pollution and Urban Health, World Health Organization

  • “We know that 91% of the global population lives in environments where air pollution doesn’t respect WHO standards”
  • More than 3 billion people rely on polluting fuels for cooking
  • Air pollution is causing 7 million deaths
  • 23% of the burden of diseases is due to environmental factors, but they are evitable if we would implement measures to reduce risk factors
  • We know about the risk factors and the actions to be undertaken
  • “Those measures that would reduce air pollution, at the same time would mitigate climate change. We need to see the global picture of air pollution and health in the broader context.”
  • Air pollution has a broad range of effects on health: respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, development of disorders, …
  • Collaboration efforts needed to fight air pollution
  • “The science is there, we know about the health effects, we also know who is most affected, we also know what is working, so there is a need now of building the capacities and the mechanisms”

Pavel Kabat, Chief Scientist, World Meteorological Organization

  • “The cost of going to WHO standards globally in the mega-cities, which means PM2.5 and PM10 standard, is about 700 billion a year. The cost to comply with the 2°C mitigation target is 1 trillion. (…) Guess what happens when you start to act cross-sector and say: “We are going to invest globally into the shared, cross-sectorial policies and actions that will be addressing air quality, energy availability and climate altogether”. The cost is around 650 billion a year lower.”
  • Measures necessitate governance cooperation – we know what happens in relation to air quality in each municipality in some countries, but efforts for mitigation need to be collaborative among different political actors
  • Air pollution is a part of our economic DNA, which means it cannot be changed overnight, it is a transition issue
  • Air quality data is still very low for effective understanding and warning systems
  • “WHO, WMO, UNEP and others should come together to urge members to show leadership in the integrated, holistic air quality nowcasting and forecasting system.”

Marc Chardonnens, State Secretary for the Environment, Director of the Federal Office for the Environment, Switzerland

  • Distinction between developed and developing countries
  • “First, we needed to have evidence-based facts to show that there’s a problem, and we installed a system of monitoring of pollution in Switzerland where we could clearly show where the problem was. That was the first step. (…) One of the most important elements is to make things visible. (…) Afterwards, in our institutional framework we were able to address the problem of air pollution through a legal framework based on two principles: the first principle is the precautionary principle; (…) the second one is the polluter-based principle (…).”
  • Trans-boundary pollutants: need for conventions and international commitment to act all around the world
  • “Our solutions are not always possible in developing countries, but the awareness of our behavior (…), can lead us to improve individually.”
  • In developed countries we made some mistakes, as people did not want to accept some changes (diesel engines)

Philippe Royer, Directeur, Air, Noise and Non-Ionizing Radiation Service, Republic and Canton of Geneva

  • Local authorities must comply with the international legal frameworks, but the actions undertaken are at the local level
  • First: information, relationship with the citizens – we expect citizens to give information about air quality at the smallest level
  • Second: measures – reduce traffic, improve and promote public transport, restrict car usage (Crit’AIR/Stick’AIR)
  • Complicated situation in the Greater Geneva area, as two countries are involved, France and Switzerland, and three different regions are involved, the Region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, the Canton of Geneva and the Canton of Vaud

Thierry Lassus, CEO, ABB Sécheron Ltd.

  • “I think it’s possible in the industry to have factories that are neutral in terms of air pollution”
  • “Transportation is one of the factors that pollute the air, not only in terms of smelling or dark smoke, but also in terms of noise, and air pollution is not the problem of one person or one country, it is something that unfortunately has to be shared because air pollution is coming from different stakeholders.”
  • Land transport is going full electric: cars, mining trucks, …
  • The electric technology is there, it is more expensive but the current technology is not the best one
  • “I think it is something each of us really has to take deep into our heart, what we want to do tomorrow: if we want to continue to burn the planet, like we do, or if we want to change our behaviour.”
  • Boats, trains and planes will soon become or be converted to be electric- or hydrogen-powered



The event was live on Facebook with some technical problems (part 1part 2part 3part 4).


The pictures of the event are available on the BRS MEAs Flick Album.