Published: 07 Sep 2021

7 September 2021 is the second International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies to raise awareness and mobilize global action to address air pollution. Together we can act for #CleanAirForAll.

International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies

Clean air is important for the health and day-to-day lives of people. Air pollution is the single greatest environmental risk to human health and one of the main avoidable causes of death and disease globally. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide each year and that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. In addition, air pollution disproportionately affects women, children and older persons.

Air pollution doesn’t only affect human health, it also negatively impacts the climate, 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.

7 September 2021 is the second International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, as set out in the UN General Assembly resolution 74/212.  The international community acknowledges that improving air quality can enhance climate change mitigation and that climate change mitigation efforts can improve air quality.

2021 Theme: Healthy Air, Healthy Planet

The theme of the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies 2021 is Healthy Air, Healthy Planet, which emphasizes the correlation between human and planetary health. It is particularly relevant in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Clean Air and the Sustainable Development Goals

The right to breathe clean air goes hand in hand with achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including healthy lives, sustainable cities, access to clean energy, and climate change mitigation.

In “The Future We Wantof the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCTAD), countries committed to promoting sustainable development policies that support healthy air quality in the context of sustainable cities and human settlements. In addition, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development outlines a road map to achieving sustainable development, environmental protection and prosperity for all, recognizing that air pollution abatement is important to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Clean Air is a Human Right

Poor air quality has implications for a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, water, food, housing and an adequate standard of living. Air pollution also clearly violates the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.

Air pollution is a preventable problem. The solutions − laws, standards, policies, programmes, investments and technologies − are known. Implementing these solutions will of course entail large investments, but the benefits of fulfilling the right to breathe clean air for all of humanity are incalculable.

In “The Right to Breathe Clean Air” report to the General Assembly of David R. Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment (2019), he offers a number of recommendations to States for actions they should consider as part of a national air quality action plan. He also urges businesses to fulfill their responsibility, to contribute to and support efforts to reduce air pollution.

Air Pollution and Climate Change

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), air pollution is the world’s biggest environmental killer. Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that air pollution is responsible for around seven million premature deaths each year through diseases such as lung cancer, acute respiratory infections and heart disease. Meanwhile, the main sources of air pollution and greenhouse gases are often the same. Most actions to improve air quality also therefore help to fight climate change.

Many of the drivers of climate change such as inefficient and polluting forms of energy and transport systems contribute to air pollution. Thus, strategies to fight both climate change and air pollution go hand in hand.

Burning of fossil fuels – for power, transportation, and industry – is the main source of the carbon emissions driving climate change and a major contributor to health-damaging air pollution. Scientists anticipate that a warming climate will worsen air quality. If current emissions continue, ground-level ozone events are expected to intensify, especially in densely populated areas, leading to more respiratory illness. In certain areas, the frequency and extent of wildfires – and with them, emissions of PM and other pollutants – are projected to increase. In some areas, a drier climate will lead to more dust storms; in others, pollen and other airborne allergens are likely to increase.

Air Quality Standards and Legislation

UNEP recently published the First Global Assessment of Air Pollution Legislation (GAAPL) and presented the findings of a study of air quality legislation in 194 countries and the European Union. Using the Air Quality Guidelines developed by the WHO as a starting point, the report examines the legal measures for determining whether air quality standards are being met and what legal standards exist for failure to meet them.

Air Quality Monitor

Click on the image below to explore the quality of air worldwide in real time. UNEP also recently published The European and Central Asian Actions on Air Quality report.

Role of Geneva

Addressing air pollution requires multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder efforts that build upon synergies between different organizations. As a global hub for international environmental governance, air pollution is a priority for Geneva and the various organizations in the area.

Organizations are listed in alphabetical order

Stockholm Convention

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and wildlife, and have harmful impacts on human health or on the environment. Exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) can lead to serious health effects including certain cancers, birth defects, dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems, greater susceptibility to disease and damages to the central and peripheral nervous systems. Given their long range transport, no one government acting alone can protect its citizens or its environment from POPs.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

To improve air quality, UNECE member states have been working successfully to reduce air pollution in the region through the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. Eight protocols identify specific measures to be taken by the Parties to cut their emissions. The Convention also provides access to emission, measurement and modelling data and information on the effects of air pollution on ecosystems, health, crops and materials.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment

The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment is mandated to continue to study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The current Special Rapporteur, David R. Boyd, developed “The Right to Breathe Clean Air” report for the UN General Assembly with a number of recommendations to States for actions they should consider as part of a national air quality action plan. He also urges businesses to fulfill their responsibility, to contribute to and support efforts to reduce air pollution.

World Economic Forum (WEF)

The Alliance for Clean Air works towards a 1.5° trajectory by 2030 by catalyzing action on ambient air pollution and prioritizing health. WEF also provides strategic insights and contextual intelligence on air pollution.

World Health Organization (WHO)

The First WHO Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health took place in Geneva in from 30 October to 1 November 2018. The WHO also developed the guideline “Health and the Environment: Addressing the Health Impact of Air Pollution“.

World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

The Global Atmosphere Watch Programme of the WMO studies the variability and trends in atmospheric composition and related physical parameters, and assesses their consequences. One major aspect of the Global Atmosphere Watch is to organize, participate in and coordinate assessments of the chemical composition of the atmosphere on a global scale. In this way, the Global Atmosphere Watch provides reliable scientific information for national and international policymakers, supports international conventions on stratospheric ozone depletions and monitors climate change and long-range transboundary air pollution.

The WMO has also published its first Air Quality and Climate Bulletin which highlights the main factors that influence air quality patterns of 2020, in comparison to other years, showing how there were episodes of both improvement and deterioration of air quality in different parts of the world.

Global Campaigns

Alliance for Clean Air

The World Economic Forum has partnered with UNEP to engage the private sector and garner commitments through the Alliance for Clean Air. It brings together different sectors and organization to share facts, best practices, work through the barriers to action, and develop public-private partnerships.

BreatheLife

BreatheLife is a global campaign launched in 2016 to mobilize cities and individuals to protect our health and planet from the effects of air pollution. It combines public health and climate change expertise with guidance on implementing solutions to air pollution in support of global development goals. The campaign is supported by WHO, UNEP, the World Bank and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. BreatheLife’s growing network includes 76 cities, regions, and countries.

Clear the Air

As the population approaches 10 billion with people concentrated in urban areas, air pollution is likely to worsen. Clearing the air has garnered governmental commitment. On 1 September 2020, UNEP launched Clear the Air as part of its #BeatPollution campaign and aims to raise awareness about the impact of air pollution.

Air Quality in Geneva

The air quality in Geneva is constantly under observation and four fixed measuring stations are active in the canton. Geneva is implementing measures targeting the sources of the pollution and applying a cantonal strategy to prevent air pollution.

Events

Various events are planed around the world in support of the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies.

Celebrating the 2nd International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies

7 September 2021 | 15:00 CEST | UNEP | Online

Air Quality Beyond Borders – Best Practices in Policy on Air Quality Management

7 September 2021 | 10:00 CEST | Climate and Clean Air Coalition | Online

Learning

Resources