Today delegates from North America are gathering in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies and this year’s theme, “The Air We Share,” recognizes the decades of action through partnerships that have significantly improved air quality in North America.
According to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), tackling persistent challenges to improve air quality can result in climate change co-benefits , improve human health for our communities and advance environmental justice, through even stronger collaboration within and across borders.
The CEC was established by Canada, Mexico, and the United States to implement the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, the environmental side accord to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Air pollution remains a stark global challenge, with far-reaching impacts due to its transboundary nature, posing one of the greatest environmental risks to human health. Poor air quality is one of the main avoidable causes of death and disease globally, causing an estimated seven million premature deaths every year.
With more than 90 per cent of the global population living in areas exceeding World Health Organization guidelines for healthy air and air pollution ranking as the fourth highest risk for death overall, just three years ago the United Nations General Assembly sounded the alarm and established 7 September as a day to raise awareness and mobilize action to address air pollution.
The awareness around air quality and the interconnected and transboundary nature of its environmental, human health and climate dimensions has accelerated in recent years, and there is a clear need to move faster, further, and together to implement bold regional action. Whether it be improved air quality due to lowered emissions during lockdowns in the early phase of the pandemic, or the toxic smoke from the evermore frequent wildfires, the shifting social perception of air quality emergencies are generating growing concern for affected communities across North America and driving the call and the need for urgent and coordinated regional action.
Individual and collective actions to improve air quality in North America, such as those facilitated through the CEC to promote air quality monitoring, to develop a coordinated framework for air quality measurements, and making comparable and compatible data available and accessible to countries and interested stakeholders, have already helped improve decision-making, transparency, public awareness of air quality issues and progress monitoring at a regional scale.
According to the CEC, North America, as a region, has a clear role to play as a leader and catalyst in further improving air quality at a regional and at a global scale, while advancing climate action and promoting environmental justice, working horizontally across sectors as well as vertically across all levels of government.
As such, the CEC, along with the United Nations Environment Programme North America and the World Resources Institute have come together today, along with experts and representatives from the governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States, to celebrate the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies.
They are also taking this opportunity to showcase and share the progress of collective efforts to reduce air pollution in North America and more importantly, to continue convening experts, policymakers and stakeholders for a discussion on how we strengthen collaboration going forward to close the gap on air pollution in North America and beyond. Joint efforts to improve air quality in the North American region are also helping address the interconnected climate dimensions of our environmental policies, promoting biodiversity protection and tackling persistent pollution all while improving the health of our communities and advancing environmental justice.
“Taking action on air quality is about much more than simply improving the air we breathe – air quality is intricately related to our climate and to our biodiversity and is critical to building the resilience of the most underserved and vulnerable communities.”
—Jorge Daniel Taillant, Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) Executive Director
“In North America, governments and other stakeholders have a rich history of working together to address air pollution both at home and abroad. Much can be learned from this regional experience in other areas of the world where clearing the air continues to be an urgent environmental, health, and developmental challenge.”
—Barbara Hendrie, United Nations Environment Programme North America Office Director (UNEP RONA),
“Air pollution causes seven million premature deaths each year, and 90 percent of them are in low- and middle-income countries. For the sake of global health, climate, and justice, we must collaborate across all scales to collect and share data, research, and best practices to limit its sources. Air pollution does not stay within geographic boundaries or sectors, and neither do its solutions.”
—Ani Dasgupta, World Resources Institute (WRI) President & CEO
Featured image: Veeterzy/Unsplash.