Source: Small Island Developing States
2 November 2018: The First World Health Organization (WHO) Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health convened under the theme, ‘Improving Air Quality, Combating Climate Change: Saving Lives.’ Participants acknowledged the urgent need to scale up the global response to prevent diseases and deaths from air pollution, which claims seven million lives a year, is a major driver of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer, and accelerates climate change.
The conference met from 30 October to 1 November 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland. It recommended an aspirational goal of reducing the number of deaths from air pollution by two thirds by 2030, and identified elements for the ‘Geneva Action Agenda to Combat Air Pollution,’ which calls for, inter alia:
- enhancing education on air pollution;
- enhancing joint action between the financial, health and environmental sectors;
- continuing the joint effort for harmonized air pollution monitoring through the Global Platform on Air Pollution and Health, among others;
- strengthening action to protect the most vulnerable populations, especially children;
- increasing access to clean energy and technologies in Africa and other areas with vulnerable populations; and
- supporting cities to improve urban air quality.
Efforts to combat air pollution will, inter alia, contribute to SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG target 7.2 on access to clean energy in the home, SDG target 11.6 on air quality in cities, SDG target 11.2 on access to sustainable transport and SDG 13 (climate action), as well as the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Completing Paris Agreement implementation guidelines and ensuring that countries fulfill their financial pledges will help combat air pollution.
In an op-ed, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called air pollution a “silent public health emergency.” Speaking during the conference, UNFCCC Deputy Executive Secretary Ovais Sarmad underscored the interlinkages between climate change and air pollution, and said that completing guidelines for implementation of the Paris Agreement and ensuring that countries fulfill their financial pledges to support the climate regime will also help combat air pollution and achieve the SDGs.
A High-Level Action Day, held on 1 November, focused on concrete commitments on measures to combat air pollution. Commitments were also made to the BreathLife campaign, which aims to reduce climate emissions and meet the WHO Air Quality Guidelines. According to the Organization, 91% of the world’s population live in places where air quality exceeds WHO guideline limits.
The conference was organized in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC), the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the World Bank and the UNFCCC. [WHO Press Release on Conference Outcomes] [UNFCCC Press Release] [Statement by UNFCCC Deputy Executive Secretary] [WHO Press Release on Air Pollution Destroying Health] [Op-Ed by WHO Director-General] [Conference Website]