Think blue sky: 5 things to know about air pollution


Globally, more than 90% of people breathe air that the World Health Organization (WHO) considers potentially harmful.

Although the source of air pollution varies – some from vehicle emissions, some from power plants, others from the burning of crops – the result is the same: airborne contaminants are a major source of pollution. serious threat to human health.

Each year, they cause around 7 million premature deaths from diseases such as stroke, heart disease and lung cancer. Many air pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, are also powerful greenhouse gases that fuel climate change.

This has made it all the more important for cities to improve air quality, said Maria Neira, director of environment, climate change and health at WHO.

“We need to reconsider the way we consume resources and the way our cities are built. It is at the heart of the future development of our company.

Many urban areas are starting to do just that. From setting up very low emission zones to banning cars, here are five cities that are taking innovative steps to clean their air.

1. Paris, France

The French capital has banned the most polluting vehicles from entering the city center, banned cars from the banks of the Seine and reclaimed road space for trees and pedestrians.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, city officials saw a significant drop in nitrogen dioxide – a pollutant emitted by vehicles; particles – a potential cause of respiratory disease; and carbon dioxide. To consolidate these gains and offer residents wary of coronaviruses an alternative to driving, the city has also expanded its network of cycle paths. Now, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, wants to make Paris “a pedestrian city”, where the needs of residents can be met in 15 minutes on foot.

“Air pollution has improved a lot in Paris,” said Karine Léger, CEO of Airparif, an organization that monitors air quality. “Since there is a link between COVID-19 and air pollution, improving air quality will also be a central point of the city’s attractiveness for tourism and economic activities in the regions. years to come. ”

2. Seoul, Republic of Korea

Korea grabbed the headlines for its cutting-edge campaign against air pollution. Autonomous 5G-enabled robots scan industrial complexes to monitor air quality, while a satellite monitoring system provides the public with real-time air quality data.

City leaders also announced plans to create Seoul’s first ‘Wind Path Forest’, planting trees close to each other along rivers and roads to channel air to the center. city. The forest should absorb the particles and bathe downtown Seoul in cooling breezes. The city has already transformed an abandoned viaduct over Seoul Main Station into a raised arboretum.

By 2030, he hopes to increase green spaces by 30% and ensure that sustainable modes of transport, such as walking, cycling and public transport, account for 80% of trips.

3. New York City, United States of America

New York’s concrete jungle is going green. In an effort to improve air quality, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced $ 1.4 billion in funding for renewable energy projects, including solar power plants and wind farms, which will power 430 000 households. This is the largest state commitment to renewable energy in U.S. history. The projects, which are slated to be implemented by 2022, will reduce carbon emissions by 1.6 million metric tonnes, which is equivalent to taking 340,000 cars off the road.

Another first for the country, a congestion charge will be introduced for drivers in the Manhattan area. Cars passing through checkpoints in the city’s Midtown area will be charged between $ 10 and $ 15. In addition to aiming to reduce emissions by preventing cars from circulating, the initiative is expected to raise $ 15 billion which will be reinvested in the public transport system.

4. Bogota, Colombia

With the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, Bogota, like other cities, has seen a dramatic drop in air pollution. Encouraged by this, the city has launched a series of initiatives in an attempt to permanently clean up its transport sector, which Mayor Claudia López says is responsible for 70% of air pollution in Bogotá. The city intends to impose strict emission standards on trucks and other highly polluting vehicles; develop a fully electric metro system capable of transporting its 8 million inhabitants and add another 60 kilometers to the 550 km of existing cycle paths. Since March 2020, the city has added 80 km, which, according to the mayor, is in constant use.

“We will take advantage of the fact that the pandemic has allowed us to accelerate this clean air program and pursue different clean and green modes of transport,” López said.

5. Accra, Ghana

Accra, Ghana, became the first African city to join the Breathe Life Campaign, a joint campaign by WHO, the United Nations Environment Program, the World Bank and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition, to mobilize cities to take action against air pollution.

The city is also part of the pilot of the WHO-Urban Health Initiative. Thanks to him, Ghana’s health services and the WHO are working to encourage the switch from charcoal stoves to gas or electric stoves in order to protect mothers and children from household smoke. They are also leading an awareness-raising initiative on the health impact of burning waste. According to the WHO, if all open fires were stopped by 2030, 120 premature deaths could be prevented each year.

“In our part of the world, air pollution is not seen as a priority health problem, even in the way we cook,” said the mayor of Accra, Mohammed Adjei Sowah. “But the statistics are so staggering that we have to wake people up to take action. We have to talk about it loud and clear so that it becomes part of our discourse in the urban political space.

UN Environment

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