Breathing clean air is a necessity for everyone and decent air quality is a shared responsibility that can only be achieved if we work together. This is what Member States in the UNECE region realized 45 years ago, when they started negotiating the first multilateral, legally binding treaty to cut air pollution on a broad regional basis – the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution.
Almost half a century later, cooperation is still at the core of the work under the Convention. Simply put: since we share the same air and pollutants know no borders, we need to find solutions together across sectors and at all levels, the urban, national and at global level.
The Convention has demonstrated that if we work together on clean air, the results can be remarkable. Since its inception in 1979, emissions of harmful substances including particulate matter and sulphur have been cut by 30-80% since 1990 in Europe and 30-40% in North America. In Europe, these measures account for 1 additional year of life expectancy, and 600,000 saved lives annually. Tackling some pollutants that affect air quality and the climate at the same time, the Convention has also supported integrated approaches for clean air and climate action.
To provide a shared response to air pollution globally, the Convention is also promoting international collaboration to improve air quality, through its Forum for International Cooperation on Air Pollution. The aim of the forum is to exchange experiences on measures to reduce air pollution, share lessons learned from the Convention and other regions, and to inspire further action within and beyond the Convention framework to reduce air pollution.
A multitude of tools and guidance documents have been developed in the framework of the Air Convention over the years, which could also be used by countries in other regions in their efforts to address air pollution and improve air quality management. Most recently, UNECE developed e-learning courses, available in English and Russian, to raise awareness about air pollution and its effects, ways to prevent and reduce harmful emissions, the Convention and its protocols as an international framework for cooperation on cleaner air, and emission reporting under the Convention.
Also working on clean air around the world, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) hosts the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) as a partnership that works with governments, intergovernmental organizations, businesses, scientific institutions and civil society organizations to reduce black carbon, methane, tropospheric ozone hydrofluorocarbons and other harmful pollutants. Through partnerships with stakeholders across sectors, UNEP and the CCAC share knowledge, support countries with their sectoral policies, explore project opportunities and enable access to financial support.
Marking the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, which is celebrated annually on 7 September, Convention experts and representatives from UN organizations (UNECE, UNEP, WHO, WMO) discussed the urgent need for stronger partnerships, increased investment and redoubling of efforts for clean air at a side event jointly organized by UNECE and UNEP, which took place back to back with the 61st session of the Convention’s Working Group on Strategies and Review (4-6 September 2023). At the event, UNECE also launched the latest addition to its e-learning courses, making available the Russian version of the course on How to report emissions under the Convention, the English version of which was launched earlier this year.
At the event, participants heard about bilateral projects that have supported countries in clean air policy development, such as EU twinning projects for Georgia, and new multilateral projects, such as those led by WHO, WMO, UNEP, CCAC and UNECE. For example, UNECE-and UNEP are joining forces to support countries in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus to accelerate clean air policies and ratification and implementation of the Convention and its protocols. Similarly, under the Forum for International Cooperation on Air Pollution, countries will work together with the World Bank to organize study tours for countries to support them with improving their air quality management systems. It was concluded that strengthened partnerships and joint work is more important than ever to protect health and ecosystems from air pollution and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.