2022 saw the onset of a global cost of living crisis, the Ukrainian war and an “African COP” that fell short of expectations. But the clean air movement responded boldly to this tough political environment to achieve breakthroughs, from clean air zone rollouts and ambitious national targets on air quality to corporate action on emissions.
At the Clean Air Fund, we are continually learning about the barriers, opportunities and risks the clean air movement faces in effecting change for people and planet. Here are five insights we gleaned from our experience in 2022 to improve and maximise progress towards our mission of clean air for all.
1. Exposing links between climate and health can elevate the clean air agenda
Investing in action on air pollution that simultaneously reduces global warming can unlock additional funds and measures for clean air. One approach might be to focus on supporting action on black carbon — soot — which is both a short-lived climate pollutant and an important component of particulate matter, one of the most harmful pollutants. Black carbon could also prevent 0.2 degrees of warming.
As the success of the global methane movement shows, a focus on a short-lived climate pollutant could offer global advocacy and funding opportunities, especially from governments engaged in protecting the Arctic, Antarctic and glaciers. Black carbon could be a chance to engage global health donors, due to its immediate, localised health impacts and the readily available solutions, like stopping burning of waste and biomass.
2. A lack of local evidence hinders national action
Evidence linking the adverse impact of air pollution to people’s health tends to be skewed towards high income countries. As a result, too few decision makers in low- and middle-income countries have air pollution on their agendas as an urgent health issue.
Child health and development donors often fail to recognise that air pollution is a major risk factor for early death of infants and children in low- and middle-income countries. We need more high quality research to fill these evidence gaps and compel governments to act.
3. City leaders step up
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) updated air quality guidelines are driving commitments from cities. 48 mayors have already signed up to C40’s Clean Air Cities Declaration, which aligns with these global standards. The updated targets include halving safe annual levels of PM2.5 and reducing NO2 by 75%.
Decision makers have been using the WHO guidelines as a useful benchmark when advocating for action, for example in the EU and UK. But many national governments are still shying away from adopting these ambitious targets.
4. Voices are being raised, but more need to be heard
Activists like Vanessa Nakate, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah and Dr Arvind Kumar are getting their messages across in public and political forums. But more local perspectives and concerns need to inform messages on public health or climate and ensure arguments for clean air resonate.
In the context of a global cost of living crisis, the air quality agenda is competing with a range of other issues. To influence policymakers, campaigning and advocacy efforts need to centre and amplify the voices of the communities most affected by air pollution.
5. Corporates need to get in on the action
The European Commission’s upcoming proposal for a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) could make reporting on air pollution mandatory for all companies in the EU.
Multinational businesses like Inter IKEA Group, GSK and Google began assessing air pollution emissions across their value chains over the last year. These corporate members of the Alliance for Clean Air are getting ahead of the upcoming regulatory requirements by voluntarily generating emissions data – using a new guide. More companies need to start measuring and reducing air pollution emissions now.