Published: 14 Sep 2020

7 September 2020 is the first International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies to raise awareness and mobilize global action to address air pollution.

International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies

Clean air is important for the health and day-to-day lives of people, while 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 every year and WHO data shows 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. The world needs to act now.

7 September 2020 is the first 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.

The theme of the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies 2020 is Clean Air for All. #CleanAirForAll #WorldCleanAirDay

Clean Air and the Sustainable Development Goals

The right to breathe clean air goes hand in hand with achieving the 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, 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.

Learn more 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). The Special Rapporteur offers a number of recommendations to States for actions they should consider as part of a national air quality action plan and urges businesses, in order to fulfill their responsibility in this regard, to contribute to and support efforts to reduce air pollution.

Reduce Air Pollution and Fight Climate Change

Many of the drivers of climate change such as inefficient and polluting forms of energy and transport systems contribute also 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 trends 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.

A Priority for International Geneva

Addressing air pollution requires multisectoral and multistakeholder 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 intergovernmental, international and non-governmental institutions active in the area. They include WHO, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

The First WHO Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health took place in Geneva in from 30 October to 1 November 2018.

Global Campaigns

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. Learn more at BreatheLife.

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, bringing together different sectors and organization types to share facts, best practice, work through the barriers to action, and have a place for public-private partnerships to be developed.

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, UNEP launched “Clear the Air” as part of its #BeatPollution campaign. “Clear the Air” aims to raise awareness about the impact of air pollution on peoples’ health and the health of their environment and economies, as well as to promote individual solutions to improve air quality in their surroundings.

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. The full schedule is available on the official website of the day.

Learning

Resources