UNIDO supports International Day of Clean Air for blue skies

UNIDO supports International Day of Clean Air for blue skies

07 Sep 2021


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:

Cables being burnt at Agbogbloshie Scrap Yard in Ghana, one of the countries selected for UNIDO’s Health and Pollution Action Plans project. Credit: UNIDO

Working together to address pollution-related illness

Health and Pollution Action Plans (HPAPs)

UNIDO led the preparation of HPAPs for five countries; Colombia, Ghana, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Philippines and Tanzania. Enhancing understanding of the sources of environmental damage can help with designing policies and formulating preventative actions to further the impact of air pollution reduction. Designed to bring together national Ministries and partners for concrete action on environmental health, air pollution is a key area covered in the Plans, alongside water, sanitation, soil contamination and occupational exposure to pollutants.

Partners: UNIDO, the European Commission, Global Alliance on Health and Pollution


clean cooking
Promoting clean cooking fuels in Tanzania, where UNIDO is working with the local government to convert half a million middle-income households to clean cooking fuels by incentivizing the production of bioethanol and setting up a female-led distribution network. Credit: UNIDO

Creating value chains for clean cooking fuels and technologies

Clean Cooking

Three billion people continue to use solid fuels and open fires for cooking, heating and lighting, contributing to indoor air pollution that is estimated to claim 3.8 million deaths prematurely every year. In Tanzania, UNIDO is working with the local government to convert half a million middle-income households to clean cooking fuels by incentivizing the production of bioethanol and setting up a female-led distribution network. Plans are in place to roll this method out to 20 countries across Africa and Asia.


Partners: UNIDO, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), various

A man takes an e-tricycle for a spin in Manila, one of the cities in which UNIDO, in collaboration with the Philippine government, is fostering the uptake of e-mobility solutions with the support of the GEF. Date and location of photo taken: 28/02/2020, Metro Manila, Philippines Credit: UNIDO

Accelerating the transition


With the global car fleet due to triple by 2050, greenhouse gas emissions from transport are growing faster than any other sector. From setting up low-carbon urban transportation demonstration zones in Shanghai, to addressing gaps and barriers to electric vehicle adoption and production in Thailand, UNIDO is supporting e-mobility in a number of countries, including South Africa, China and Malaysia.



Partners: UNIDO, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), various

Three gold panners, known locally as barranquilleros, from the department of Chocó, Colombia. Credit: UNIDO

Supporting mercury-free gold mining globally

Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining (ASGM)

According to the United States’ EPA, artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) produces about 20% of the world's gold.  However, this sector is responsible for the largest (around a third of the world’s total) mercury emissions into the environment. Each year ASGM releases around 400 metric tons of airborne elemental mercury, which causes significant health risks to those working directly in the sector and beyond, since it travels through the air and water. To tackle this problem at the source, for over 20 years UNIDO has been supporting the Minamata Convention and assisting ASGM mining communities by introducing mercury-free technologies, best practices, and assisting with policy reform.

Partners: UNIDO, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), various


Chemicals and waste management
Through its regional project in Latin America, UNIDO is contributing towards the promotion of effective and safe e-waste management and expanding knowledge of associated health threats in partnership with the World Health Organization and others. Credit: UNIDO

Detoxifying industry, sector by sector

Chemicals and waste management

Toxic chemicals have been used in industrial processes for decades, and continue to be used and released today, in everything from fertilizers to waste incineration. UNIDO’s Industrial Pollution Mitigation (IPM) Division focuses on detoxifying industry and helps to reduce air pollution by supporting the environmentally sound management of waste and best practice in chemicals management across the world. From the fashion industry to the construction sector, IPM adopts a sectoral approach to chemicals and waste management for enhanced impact.

Electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) is the fastest growing domestic waste stream in the world. As many as 18 million children and adolescents and 12.9 million women may be at risk from adverse health outcomes linked to e-waste recycling.  Improper and illegal e-waste recycling can pose serious risks to the environment and human health, as it can increase the concentrations of particulate matter (PM10 and PM 2.5). Burning e-waste can release dioxins and furans that are the most toxic persistent organic pollutants known. It can also release high heavy metal concentrations (Pb, Cu, Zn, Ni and Cr) into the air, expanding the hazards beyond the source of production. Through its regional project in Latin America, UNIDO is contributing towards the promotion of effective and safe e-waste management and expanding knowledge of associated health threats in partnership with the World Health Organization and others.

Partners: UNIDO, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the World Health Organization, various

Children and digital dumpsites: e-waste exposure and child health https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240023901

A female project participant learns more about servicing and maintenance of cold storage equipment through a UNIDO-GEF project in Viet Nam. Credit: UNIDO

Cooling the world, closing the loop

Refrigeration and Cooling

A variety of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) can be found in everyday products we use to keep ourselves and products cool, from refrigerators to fire extinguishers. When released into the atmosphere, these chemicals damage the stratospheric ozone layer, and effectively reduce the protection this provides to humans and the environment from harmful levels of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. UNIDO works with over 70 countries to prevent climate change and protect human health by reducing the consumption, production and emissions of ODS and substances with high global warming potential (or high GWP), commonly referred to as greenhouse gases (GHG).

Partners: UNIDO, Multilateral Funds of the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), various