There is an increasing desire to understand how to stop air pollution. Each year, it is responsible for some 7 million deaths worldwide. This includes indoor air pollution (which kills 3million of the 7million people per year). The reliance on solid fuels for cooking and their focus on industrialization makes air pollution a prominent problem in low and middle income countries. But air pollution isn’t an isolated problem- it impacts people across the world. In fact almost all of the global population (99%) breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits. (WHO). This is significant as air pollution has a direct impact on human health. It causes long term illnesses and an estimated 3.7 million premature deaths worldwide.
Indoor air pollution is a threat to the people in areas where the use of open fires and simple stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal is common. According to a study by the Lancet Planetary Health, air pollution was “responsible for 1.1 million deaths across Africa in 2019, with more than half of those fatalities associated with household (indoor) pollutants.” The pollution isn’t just causing fatalities, it’s also having an impact on the children’s lives. It can be correlated to a “devastating loss in the intellectual development of Africa’s children” as more than “350 million African children live in households that use solid fuels, mostly wood and coal, for cooking and heating.”
The rise in air pollution in one country impacts others through transboundary pollution. This can be seen in the case of South Asian countries, which were at the top of the Air Pollution list in 2020. And Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan share 37 of the 40 most polluted cities worldwide (Brecorder). This year Lahore was recorded as being the most polluted city in the world. The reasons for the pollution vary though they typically result from the region’s industrial and agricultural practices.
As we can see the problem is significant and it is not isolated. An awareness of this has led to the growth in the number of groups and organisations studying how to stop air pollution. The organisations an programs listed below are working to tackle air pollution and promote clean air.
Convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2021, it acts as an advisory body by providing technical guidance. It also provides input to support WHO’s work on air pollution.
The Swiss air quality technology company specializes in protection against airborne pollutants, developing air quality monitoring and air cleaning products. They operate Air Visual, a global six-level map of air pollution by country and city ranking. With the world’s largest free real-time air quality information platform, they engage an ever-growing number of global citizens, organizations, and governments. For example, the Pakistan Air Quality Initiative is a Contributor for IQAir, providing crowd-sourced, community-driven air quality data to increase social awareness.
Climate and Clean Air Coalition (2012; Paris)
Committed to improving air quality and protecting the climate through reducing short-lived climate pollutants. To this end, it works to create policies and practices that will deliver substantial reductions in the pollutants. It also engages with hundreds of local actors carrying out activities across economic sectors to advance action.
Air Pollution & Climate Secretariat (1982; Goteborg; Sweden)
Focuses on raising awareness of the problems associated with air pollution and climate change. This is done in an attempt reduce air pollutant emissions to levels that the environment can tolerate without suffering damage. In Eastern European countries, their activity mostly takes the form of supporting and cooperating with the local environmentalist movements.
Health and Environment Alliance (2003; Brussels)
Stands for sustainable societies, clean air, healthy food, toxic free natural and built environments. They aim to inspire disease prevention and a toxic-free, low-carbon, fair and healthy future. To this end, it addresses how the environment affects human health by working to shape laws and policies that promote planetary and human health. The alliance brings independent and expert evidence from the health community to EU and global decision-making processes.
Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (2020; Helsinki)
Provides data around air pollution with the aim of tracking trends, causes, and health impacts of air pollution. They have also developed the use of remote sensing data to support campaigns for clean air and clean energy. This includes pollution monitoring and visualization, identifying regulatory violations, and tracking energy sector and emissions trends.
Clean Air Asia (2001; Philippines)
They focus on improving the air quality in Asia; aiming to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to the development of a more sustainable, equitable and healthier Mid-Atlantic Region. They provide”policy guidance, building capacity, and making a compelling case for action among stakeholders at city, national, and regional levels.
The regional partnership platform aims to foster effective and regular knowledge exchange between local governments in East Asia. While also working to promote clean air actions via city-to-city partnership. They do so through joint study, annual forums, capacity building activities and producing publications.
Clean Air Council (1967; Philadelphia)
The environmental health advocacy organization works to protect people’s health from the harmful impacts of pollution. They do so through public education, community action, holding elected officials accountable. The Council also aims to ensure that environmental laws protect public health and the environment are enforced.
Clean Air Task Force (1996; Boston, MA)
Aim to push the technology and policy changes needed to achieve a zero-emissions, high-energy planet at an affordable cost. They focus on driving change forward through policy and innovation, aiming to reduce climate change by applying an overwhelming amount of force to some of the biggest levers to reduce carbon and other climate-warming emissions.
Moms Clean Air Force (2011; NYC)
A community of over 1,000,000 moms and dads united against air pollution, aiming to protect their children. They work on national and local policy issues; meeting with lawmakers at every level of government and on both sides of the political aisle to build support for equitable, just, and healthy solutions to pollution.
Natural Resources Defense Council (1970; New York)
They use law, science, and the collective power of people to tackle the world’s environmental problems from every angle; focusing on the protection of the rights of all people to clean air, clean water, and healthy communities. To this end, they use a variety of methods and work on solutions that are firmly grounded in meticulous research and sound scientific principles. Their work is done through advocacy, litigation, business strategies and partnerships.
While air pollution has a place on the global agenda, as shown in Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals on Good Health and Well-Being and at annual COP meetings, very little is being done to stop the problem. It is caused by a wide variety of industrial and agricultural practices, and ending or even reducing them is costly and cannot be done easily or quickly. But unless serious steps are taken to change the way that things are done, the situation will only worsen as the world becomes trapped in a destructive feedback loop.
About the Author
Iman is a Researcher for the S&S Guide. She lives in Lahore, a city of 13 million in Pakistan with a projected population of 19 million by 2035, one of the top five polluted cities in the world. The mixture of smog and toxins impacts people’s lives most days in the year, and has a noticeable impact on health.
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