While traditional industrial development has largely contributed to improved living conditions and economic growth across the world, it has also taken its toll on both the environment, particularly on air quality, and human health. An article in the European Respiratory Review highlights “that both short- and long-term exposures to air pollution may be important aggravating factors for SARS-CoV-2 transmission and COVID-19 severity and lethality through multiple mechanisms.” Within this context, UNIDO’s mandate to promote industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalization and environmental sustainability is more relevant than ever.
Industrial processes and innovations in agriculture, energy, transport and waste management, and progress in other sectors, have enabled us to live, shop, eat, move and work more efficiently in terms of time and effort, but these have led to substantially increased emissions of various harmful and toxic pollutants. In addition, poverty and a lack of development are impacting air pollution and health; the World Health Organization reports that three billion people, mostly poor, cook using solid fuels and kerosene in open fires and inefficient stoves. These practices release high levels of health-damaging pollutants, including smoke and very fine soot particles that penetrate deep into the lungs, particularly among women and young children, who spend most of their time at home.
Mindful that air pollution is the single greatest environmental risk to human health, in December 2019 the General Assembly of the United Nations decided to designate 7 September as the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies. It is known that it causes around seven million premature deaths every year and drives climate change, which represents an existential threat to our civilization and the future of humanity.
With this background, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization’s Environment and Energy Directorate, in cooperation with the UNIDO Staff Union, has held a series of online events to mark the celebration of the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies 2021, led by the United Nations Environment Programme and supported by more than 40 UN sister organizations.
Reflecting upon the Organization’s work on tackling air pollution and climate change, the Day provided an opportunity for colleagues to explore the synergies between efforts in these areas and to look at ways of enhancing the impact of various initiatives.
Professor Jason West from the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill gave a keynote presentation to all UNIDO personnel on “Healthy Air, Healthy Planet: Achieving Global Clean Air through Climate Action”. Drawing on state-of-the-art research from his lab and other researchers, West joined the dots between air pollution, climate change and health, and the corresponding policy implications.
For many years, UNIDO has been developing activities, programmes and projects that aim to provide sustained support to governments, national and international institutions, and industry, on tackling air pollution and climate change. These policies and actions tackle indoor and outdoor, as well as local and global air pollution. They also address work required to achieve several of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, the New Urban Agenda and other important global agreements.
Therefore, by managing hazardous air pollutants and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in different sectors, UNIDO contributes to protecting human health and the environment to recover a healthy planet for healthy and resilient people. UNIDO interventions include upgrading industrial processes to avoid releases of air pollutants, improving energy efficiency to reduce emissions, avoiding waste or biomass burning and its associated toxic emissions; and supporting fuel conversion and using renewable energy.
From clean cooking to e-mobility, UNIDO participates in a number of activities that contribute towards tackling air pollution and climate change. You can find out more about the relevant activities here: