99% of the world’s population breathes air that exceeds World Health Organization air quality guidelines. Cleaning the air is a massive opportunity to improve public health and climate change. Because air pollution and climate change are mainly caused by burning fossil fuels, these problems can be tackled together. By addressing these issues in isolation, funders and policymakers drastically overlook the potential of clean air to realise multiple health, social and sustainable economic benefits.
Our fourth annual report is the only global snapshot of projects funded by international development funders and philanthropic foundations to tackle air pollution. We identify gaps in funding, and opportunities for strategic investment and collaboration for systemic change.
As the world prepares for COP27 in Egypt, we call for more joined up policies and funding to address air pollution, climate change and unsustainable economic growth simultaneously. This report provides recommendations for decision makers, policy makers and philanthropic foundations.
Explore the report
Too often we treat climate change and air pollution as separate issues. It is shocking that 98% of international public climate finance fails to consider air pollution as an explicit priority. If we start prioritising air pollution, we can make a huge difference quickly.Vanessa Nakate, climate justice activist, foreword of our report
Overall funding trends and recommendations
Trends and gaps in air quality and climate finance
- Just 0.5% of international development funding, or $11 billion in 2015-2020, went towards improving outdoor air quality. Given the damage we know air pollution does to our health, economies and environment, there is no sound financial or political argument for this underinvestment.
- Air quality funding from philanthropic foundations rose by 36% to an all-time high of $63.8 million in 2021. But this amount is still less than 0.1% of total philanthropic spending.
- $46.6 billion was committed by international development funders to projects that prolong the use of fossil fuel rather than tackling air pollution, between 2015-2021. Globally, that is more than four times the amount dedicated to air quality projects in the same period.
- Governments, banks and donor agencies committed 36 times more money to fossil fuel-prolonging projects in Africa than clean air measures in 2015-2021.
- Only 2.2% of international public climate finance intentionally tackles air pollution, which is the share of funding that contributes to achieving the Paris Agreement. Climate finance is a large untapped source of funding that can deliver cleaner air and a healthier environment.
- Grant funding, which is crucial to avoid saddling low-income countries with more loan debt, represented only 6% of total air quality commitments by official development funders.
- Air quality funding was concentrated in a handful of Asian countries, while Africa, Latin America and some parts of Asia are consistently overlooked by funders.
Recommendations for funders
- Significantly increase designated air quality funding, including within climate action and sustainable development programmes, demonstrating political urgency. Despite the short and long term benefits, not enough priority is given to integrating action on air quality, health and climate. Convening a global annual air quality stocktake – that would celebrate improvements, highlight shortcomings and offer support to countries – could galvanise momentum behind the clean air agenda and facilitate better coordination among donors to avoid duplicating efforts.
- Drive joined-up action on integrating air quality and climate into public and private investments and expenditure, including improving cooperation and coordination within government administrations, and with other stakeholders. Air pollution and climate action should be addressed through integrated approaches that consider synergies between complementary policy goals, as well as potential negative trade-offs that would worsen air quality or slow climate action. Better accounting for climate finance with air quality co-benefits will allow funders to track and measure progress towards overlapping goals and increase the impact of their funding.
- Prioritise investment in air quality data programmes that make information and analysis publicly available, accessible and relevant. Data on air quality and the sources of local pollution are essential for identifying and managing effective, contextually-appropriate solutions. There is also opportunity to harmonise greenhouse gas emissions estimation methodologies with, and alongside, air pollution inventories to further joined-up action.
- Target air quality funding to underserved regions. Africa, Latin America and some regions in Asia consistently lag behind as recipients of funding from both philanthropic and development funders. By working together to understand and address funding gaps, funders can intervene early to reduce inequalities in access to clean air, prevent the problem getting exponentially worse, and achieve air pollution and climate benefits for almost half of the world’s population.
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Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Why is air pollution so underfunded?
- Despite being one of the single biggest health threats worldwide, air pollution still accounts for under 1% of total global aid spending. This might be because it’s an invisible threat. But despite not being able to see it, it’s everywhere and it’s getting worse.
- It has left millions suffering with acute and chronic diseases including asthma, strokes, heart attacks and dementia. Over 4 million people die each year as a result of air pollution – more than twice as many as from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined.
- To some, air pollution might seem like a secondary issue, but it’s actually a critical tool for addressing a number of interconnected issues – from public health & inequality to education, development and building economic resilience.
- Tackling air pollution should be at the top of the funding agenda, because it delivers positive impacts on all these fronts.
How did you arrive at these findings?
- This is CAF’s fourth annual State of Global Air Quality Funding report. It provides an overview of the flow of funding to air quality projects since 2015 and up to and including 2021 from two sources: official development funders and philanthropic foundations.
- This report is the only global snapshot of projects tackling air pollution by donor governments and philanthropic organisations. It identifies gaps in funding and opportunities for strategic investment and collaboration to deliver clean air for all.
- This analysis is based on generous data sharing from leading foundations and from public records of Official Development Finance spending across the world from 2015 to 2021.
Why should governments prioritise funding for air quality when there are so many other urgent issues?
- Despite the huge public health and environmental crisis we face, clean air remains one of the few blind spots in government policies. For the communities and individuals affected by dirty air across the world – the urgency couldn’t be greater.
- The health impacts of dirty air are incredibly serious – from asthma and cardiovascular diseases to increasing risks of dementia and strokes. Air pollution affects everyone, but not equally. Children are particularly vulnerable, with breathing dirty air linked to stunted growth, reduced learning ability and the lifetime burden of early childhood illness.
- This isn’t about prioritising one issue over another, but not tackling air pollution head-on is missing a major opportunity. If we truly want to tackle climate change, save lives and fight inequality at the same time, addressing air pollution is essential.
- Recognising this will help us make better funding and policy decisions, which will save lives and build healthy, strong economies.
- We need governments and funders to work together to turn the tide on air pollution and deliver the health and climate benefits we need to see.
- Fundamentally, action on air pollution can address some of our biggest problems at the same time and will pay for itself many times over. That is why stronger laws on air quality and better enforcement has the backing of the majority of the public around the world.
Why are you suggesting African countries abandon fossil fuels when extractive industries are key to the development of low-income countries?
- It is critical that African countries make their decisions over how they develop. To make good decisions, they need good information. That’s what this report seeks to do – to offer the information governments need to make decisions that are in the best interests of their people and the environment.
- Air pollution driven by fossil fuel usage is killing people in Africa every day and stymying economic growth. Air pollution is the second biggest killer on the continent after HIV/AIDS and the problem of dirty air cannot be brushed under the carpet in favour of short-term gains.
- It’s now indisputable that doubling down on fossil fuels won’t deliver the healthy, sustainable growth that all governments should aspire to. Working as quickly as possible towards growth driven by cleaner energy solutions is the best way for governments to get ahead. Supporting this should be the objective of all governments and funders aiming to save lives and grow healthy, strong economies.
- At COP27 we have an opportunity to kick start a conversation around how to change tact and how outside governments can help support this, for everyone’s sake.
Aren’t there bigger problems for African countries to tackle before air pollution?
- Air pollution is one of the greatest challenges facing the continent and urgent action needs to be taken to prevent more people dying as a result of dirty air and to protect the planet. The African Development Bank predicts that by 2060, the majority of Africa’s population will live in megacities, and as populations across the continent grow and rapid urbanisation continues, the urgency to tackle the problem is only increasing. Right now, the opposite is happening, with governments investing heavily in fossil fuels – the main driver of both air pollution and climate change.
- This isn’t about prioritising one issue over another, indeed tackling air pollution head-on is a major opportunity to tackle some of our biggest challenges from improving public health and economic inequality, to preventing further climate disintegration.
- We urgently need to start having these conversations to avoid missed opportunities and COP is the ideal place to do this, for the benefit of countries in Africa and for us all.
Why do you think so much money is going to fossil fuels and how can we stop it?
- The fact that governments are still investing millions into projects prolonging fossil fuel usage over those fighting air pollution makes no sense at all.
- Governments must grasp the urgency with which we need to transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energies if we’re going to prevent catastrophic levels of global warming and tackle air pollution.
- Climate change and air pollution share many of the same solutions and many countries are already taking action. From adopting measures like banning dirty coal stoves and introducing clean air zones, to setting ambitious targets in line with international guidelines, there is progress being made – but we need to see more of it.
What do you want funders to do?
- The clean air movement is at a tipping point and these findings show we need action fast. Through smart and strategic funding, we can address some of our biggest challenges at the same time, delivering concrete, win-win solutions and delivering real impact through joined-up solutions that address both air pollution and climate change.
- Funding clean air projects should be a priority for governments and funders wanting to make the biggest impact. This is because clean air is not just a health issue, it shares many of the same drivers and solutions as climate change, impacting on everything from public health & inequality to education, development and building strong economies.
- Strategic funding of clean air projects is a win-win, helping us tackle these issues all at once – and if we do it right, it will pay for itself many times over.