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Blog 23 March 2021

5 ways we can mobilise serious resources for clean air

Jane Burston Matt Whitney Robert O'Keefe from the Health Effects Institute
Robert O'Keefe from the Health Effects Institute and Clean Air Fund's Jane Burston and Matt Whitney outline 5 things development agencies and development banks can do to tackle air pollution globally, and work towards clean air solutions.

Air pollution is the fourth-biggest global risk factor to our health, yet current funding to clean the air is a mere rounding error on major donors’ budgets. This is despite compelling evidence on the scale of the problem and, crucially, the existence of known solutions. Better communication and collaboration can ensure that this year marks a change in approach to one of the great development challenges of our time.

The air we breathe is killing us. The seminal “State of Global Air” report shows that dirty air is undermining our health from cradle to grave. In many parts of the world, this is getting worse, not better.

It is a truly global problem — 98% of the world’s children don’t breathe air the World Health Organization defines as clean. Yet as with most development challenges, people living in low- and middle-income countries are affected first and most.

You would assume such a cross-cutting issue would feature high on the agenda of major development agencies, but a recent analysis by the Clean Air Fund and Development Initiatives suggests otherwise. Read the analysis here.

Despite outdoor air pollution being responsible for 118 million “lost years of healthy life” each year, in 2019 it attracted just over $50 million of grants from major donors and philanthropic organisations combined. That’s tiny — equivalent to a mere 5% of the aid spent on malnutrition or 0.7% of the aid allocated for HIV/AIDS. This is definitely not an argument to spend less on these two major health/development issues, but it does raise the question if enough attention, and money, are going to cleaning our air.

The Clean Air Fund and Health Effects Institute recently convened a group of funders to discuss the mismatch between the scale of the problem and the money allocated to it. Five key ideas emerged:

1. Showcase the win-wins

Donor agencies and governments need convincing of the depth of the problem and its connections to other development challenges.

We must make the case for policies that address several development goals together: health, climate, economic development, and social justice. Powerful stats like those showing how air pollution is attributable to 1 in 5 newborn deaths must be combined with more localised stories of how air pollution impacts people’s health in different contexts, from London to Lagos.

We must connect air pollution to current issues like COVID-19, showing how air pollution increases susceptibility to such diseases, and how addressing it can be part of the need for “Green New Deal” economic recovery packages. This will mean we are speaking to policymakers on their terms and pushing at an open door.

Read the full article on the Devex website. This is an excerpt of the original blog published by Devex and is posted with permission.