Everyone deserves to breathe clean air
And yet, this year, 7 million people will die prematurely because of air pollution.
That’s three times the number of people who die each year from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria - combined.
Nine out of ten people on earth are risking asthma, cancer, heart disease, strokes, early dementia and cognitive dysfunction - simply by breathing.
In China, toxic air is shortening the Chinese lifespan by more than three years, while in India, air pollution can cut a person’s lifespan by four years on average (and nearly a decade for someone in the capital New Delhi) according to the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI).
Children's lives are compromised before they are born. Toxic particles from exhaust fumes pass through the lungs of pregnant women and accumulate in the placenta, raising the risk of premature birth, low birth weight and stunting the growth of children’s lungs, leaving them damaged for life.
What’s more, research shows that these underlying health conditions make people who are exposed to dirty air more susceptible to the worst impacts of respiratory diseases like Covid-19.
This is unacceptable.
Most air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, natural gas and diesel to produce electricity and power vehicles, and from burning crop residue, wood and other biomass.
The global standstill caused by Covid-19 shows how quickly we can clean the air and environment. We must emerge from this pandemic into a world that makes us healthier, stronger and more resilient to future shocks. We must build back better.
The day we take off our face masks, we want to be breathing clean air.
Coal is a public health emergency. In 2018 global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels grew more than 2% due to growth in coal use, and despite the rise of renewable energy deployment, coal is still the mainstay of many economies, including in India and China. In addition to being the largest contributor to global warming, coal burning is the single largest contributor to mercury contamination in the environment. Burning coal for electricity also releases sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter that can penetrate deep into the lungs, lead, cadmium, arsenic, VOC’s and carbon monoxide into our air.
What we want: Replace coal with clean, affordable renewable energy
- End investments to expand fossil-fuel assets
- Quickly retire existing coal-based infrastructure as clean technologies take hold
- Double the share of renewables in the global energy mix
- INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINES
Transport is one of the main sources of air pollution, for which evidence of direct effects on mortality as well as on respiratory and cardiovascular disease is firmly established. This is largely because of diesel engines in cars, but also includes heavy transportation too. Transport is the also the fastest growing source of fossil-fuel CO2 emissions, the biggest contributor to climate change. The good news is that momentum is building for a different future: consumer demand for electric vehicles is growing and many cities around the world are already exerting their citizens’ rights to clean air by promoting public transportation and other solutions.
What we want: Switch from combustion engine to zero emission mobility
- A rapid switch from petrol and diesel vehicles to more robust zero-emissions public transport, electric vehicles, car-sharing and bike schemes
- A rapid increase in the number of ultra low-emissions zones, shifting to zero-emissions zones in all towns and cities
- AGRICULTURAL BURNING
burning in the agricultural sector causes enormous health impacts in
rural and urban communities around the world, especially
among children and the very old. It is done for a variety of reasons —
removing crop residue before plowing, clearing weeds and pests,
“renewing” pastures — but the practice causes far more damage
than good; and not just to human health.
Contrary to common belief, burning decreases soil fertility by destroying nutrients and making the soil more brittle and prone to erosion. Yields and productivity go down, not up; increasing the need for expensive fertilizers. The smoke from burning can travel enormous distances, especially the smallest particles: PM2.5 and the even smaller (<PM1) black carbon are so small that they can pass from the lungs into the bloodstream causing heart disease and cancer. In addition, black carbon absorbs heat, adding to climate change. When black carbon lands on snow and ice, it causes more rapid loss of snow and glaciers, on which many rely for water supplies, and contributes to sea-level rise.
The good news is that alternatives exist to nearly all kind of agricultural burning, and farmers can be supported to make the transition. There may be cases where exceptions are made, such as in fire prevention; but the practice of burning fields and pasture one, two or even three times a year can become a thing of the past — and without the risk of spreading new wildfires in our warmer and drier climate.
What we want: Shifting from burning the soil to sowing clean air
A massive scaling up of investment in education, regulation and technologies that, by 2030, renders agricultural burning a thing of the past. Those technologies include:
- Low-till, such as better plows or support for equipment to turn the stubble back into the soil, making it richer and more resilient
- No-till and cover crops, which creates soils even more fertile and resilient, and less prone to erosion and drought
Material applications to make use of the residue, such as animal bedding, or new products such as those in IKEA’s “Better Air Initiative”
- Turning agricultural and forest waste into a source of cleaner energy, such as biogas or pellets for cooking and heating stoves