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We need more funding and closer collaboration to clean our air

We want to help build a world where everyone can breathe clean air. To get there, the issue needs more funding, which is well coordinated and sustained for a decent time.

When we set up the Clean Air Fund a year ago, we saw that information on air quality funding is very patchy. This makes it hard to know where the biggest gaps and opportunities are, and which of the solutions in play right now are working best.

Given the World Health Organization estimates that nine in every ten people now breathe polluted air, we have no time to waste. We need to make sure we are getting maximum bang for every buck, complementing each other’s efforts whilst also maximising the benefits for health, climate, children and other vulnerable groups, and the economy. Because air pollution lies behind so many problems, tackling it will unlock solutions to many of our most pressing development challenges.

That’s why we analysed the state of global funding towards outdoor air quality initiatives in our latest report. Now in its second year, the State of Global Air Quality Funding provides a global overview of funding for outdoor air quality, and the for the first time this year we’ve also been able to include an assessment of Official Development Finance. We hope it will give governments, funders and the private sector the baseline information they need to invest strategically, and all groups who work on this issue useful information to work together to scale up winning solutions.

More money and better collaboration between funders could save countless lives

It is clear more money is needed. We were able to identify just US $273m in grant funding to directly tackle outdoor air pollution over the five year period between 2015 and 2019, made up of $118m from philanthropic foundations and $155m from Official Donors. This represents a tiny fraction of development funding overall, and falls far short of what we need to meet clean air targets.

We can also get more from what we have if we work together. The analysis shows that governments tend to focus on implementing infrastructure solutions, whereas foundations are increasingly looking towards data (levels of pollution and where it is coming from) and research to grow our understanding of the health, environmental and economic impacts of air pollution. These approaches are strongly complementary. Greater cooperation would ensure maximum overall return on the funds invested, and ultimately save more lives.

COVID-19 has accelerated the need for action, and the opportunities. Exposure to toxic air has worsened the health of communities globally, leaving millions predisposed to the most severe impacts of the disease. The report makes clear that we now have a critical window of opportunity to address air pollution as a central part of the global recovery effort.

A landmark moment in the international effort to tackle air pollution

We launched the State of Global Air Quality Funding 2020 on the first ever International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Ban Ki-moon, 8th Secretary General of the United Nations and currently Chairman, Republic of Korea National Council of Climate and Air Quality, wrote a foreword in support of the research, commenting that:

“The clean air movement is at a tipping point. Outdoor air pollution is responsible for over 4 million deaths every year. It shares many of the same causes as climate change, for which we are dangerously close to a point of no return. At the same time, political will to tackle air pollution is rising. In this context, this report gives an important basis for targeting funding where it is most urgently needed and allows funders to see who else is working on similar or complementary projects.”

It was great to see our research covered by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Alliance Magazine and BusinessGreen, and prompting timely reflections among development agencies and philanthropic funders on social media.

What next for air quality funding?

As governments continue to wrestle with the impacts of COVID-19, the coming months are critical in the global mission for clean air. In particular, we will be working to provide analysis for donors and build support for the fight against air pollution at the following key moments in 2020:

  • The Finance in Common Summit: The First Global Meeting of All Public Development Banks, 10th – 12th November 2020, hosted by WFDFI and the IDFC
  • Development Assistance Committee High-Level Meeting, 10th November 2020, hosted by the OECD

There is a big challenge ahead – but also opportunities to achieve several development goals at once, if we are collaborative and strategic in the collective effort to clean our air.