International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies

The air surrounding us consists of a mixture of various gases which facilitate life on Earth. Respirable carbon dioxide supports the plant kingdom in photosynthesis, which largely supplies the oxygen that we breathe, thus upholding the Earth’s life cycle. The cleaner the air, the healthier life on Earth can be. Read on to gain insight into the importance of breathable air for all living things.

Introduction

According to the Executive Director of the United Nations Environmental Programme, Inger Andersen, “Air pollution is a global problem, which impacts human health, planetary health and climate change.” “Clean” air has no harmful levels of pollutants, such as chemicals and other contaminants, which allow people and animals to breathe easily. Environmental dialogue is often focused on the natural phenomenon that we can see. After all, it’s hard to ignore campaigns that show discarded plastic waste on the beach. But what’s harder to show are the harmful effects of poor air quality. On a hot, windless day, polluted  air can feel heavy and have a bad odor. The warm, dry and thick air may lead to lung irritation, discomfort, and coughing. When too much particulate matter and toxic chemicals get into the air, humans and animals inhale these substances along with the air they breathe. Therefore, clean air saves lives. It also contributes to economic prosperity, by reducing healthcare costs and boosting productivity in every sector. With the increasing demands of mankind, the trajectory of debasement of the environment has escalated to unprecedented levels over time. To curb the ever rising contamination of our air, new legislation has been implemented by developed and developing countries alike to combat air quality degradation and purify ambient air quality.

The Contaminator: Pollutants

Air pollution can be defined as changes in air quality that can be detected by measurements of chemical, biological or physical pollutants in the air. Thus, air pollution refers to the unwanted presence of pollutants or an abnormal rise in the concentration of certain atmospheric substances. It can be classified into 2 categories: visible and invisible air pollution. Out of many natural causes, such as volcanic eruptions, dust storms, and wildfires, air pollution is backed by many anthropogenic causes starting with combustion of fossil fuels, emissions from industries and factories, agricultural activities, and waste management. Sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) contribute 85% of all particulate matter (PM) emissions in the atmosphere. Within the energy sector, energy production and industry are major sources of SO2. The fuel used for transportation, primarily diesel, makes up more than half of the world's NOx emissions, which can cause respiratory problems and the formation of other harmful particles and pollutants, including ozone. These pollutants are linked to industry and urbanization, and coal and oil are key sources (natural gas emits less air pollution than other fuels, or biomass) and processing the discharge is subject to a large number of PMs reaching the atmosphere. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5), sulphur and nitrogen oxides (also known as pre-ozone) are very dangerous to human health and are associated with various diseases and environmental degradation. Unchecked coal and oil fires in power stations, industrial plants, and automobiles are a major cause of environmental pollution associated with the premature death of about 3.5 million people each year.

The Determinator: Air Quality Index

The U.S. Air Quality Index, or AQI, is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s daily air quality communication tool. It provides color-coded measures of air quality that explain local air quality, who may be affected (such as patients with lung conditions and other sensitive groups), and steps you can take to reduce your risk of exposure to pollution. It is also used as the basis for air quality forecasts and current air quality reporting. The five major pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act of the United States are ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. AQI information is based on scientific data for each individual category of pollution.

Clean Air and Sustainable Development Goals

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called air pollution a “silent public health emergency” during the First World Health Organization Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health convened under the theme Improving Air Quality, Combating Climate Change: Saving Lives. His speech underscored the interlinkages between climate change and air pollution, and said that completing guidelines for implementation of the Paris Agreement and ensuring that countries fulfil their financial pledges to support the climate regime will also help combat air pollution and achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Participants acknowledged the urgent need to scale up the global response to prevent diseases and deaths from air pollution, which claims seven million lives a year, is a major driver of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer, and accelerates climate change. The SDGs are a collection of 17 goals and 169 targets set by the United Nations, which were adopted by all Member States in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They address global challenges including poverty, inequality, economic growth, climate change, environmental degradation, peace, and justice. The subject of air quality is directly highlighted in three SDGs, where it is attributed to health and environmental sustainability. Strategies aimed at improved air quality are directly linked to climate change objectives, access to clean energy services, waste management, and other aspects of social and economic development. Many sustainability targets are unlikely to be achieved in the next two decades: emissions can cause as much as a 40% increase in premature deaths from outside air pollution today, carbon emissions could rise globally by 0.4% per year, while nearly two billion people will not have access to clean fuel for cooking. Efforts to combat air pollution will, inter alia, contribute to SDG number 3 (good health and well-being), SDG target 7.2 on access to clean energy in the home, SDG target 11.6 on air quality in cities, SDG target 11.2 on access to sustainable transport and SDG number 13 (climate action), as well as the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Spark Beyond the Lane

The World Health Organization and the government of the United Kingdom recognize that air pollution is a major environmental health hazard. With this in mind, we at Greenstand believe we all have a role to play in keeping our air clean. Developed countries have greatly improved their air quality in recent years but many developing countries, still relying on wood and other solid fuels for cooking and heating, are lagging behind. As a result, many socioeconomically vulnerable people suffer from the effects of severe air pollution. The particular matter of daunting concern was put forward earlier during the COVID-19 outbreak, with details suggesting that air pollution could put people at a higher risk of infection. The pandemic led to a temporary reduction in air pollution and an increase in air quality, as air traffic and traffic flows dropped during economic shutdowns.

The Clean Air Scenario (CAS) sets out a plausible strategy based on existing technologies and proven policies, to cut 2040 pollutant emissions by more than half compared with New Policies Scenario (NPS). This policy path is one in which the energy sector takes determined action, coordinated effectively with others, to deliver a comprehensive improvement in air quality.

Key areas for policy actions to achieve clean air objectives include the following:

  • Setting ambitious long-term air quality goals that allow for the assessment of various pollution mitigation options
  • Implementing a variety of clean air policies drawing on an efficient mix of best available practices, direct emission controls, and strict regulations
  • Ensuring effective monitoring, enforcement, evaluation and communication between all stakeholders, while recognizing the need for reliable, transparent data

Global Action Plan International, a NGO started in the United States and Netherlands in 1989 had a motto to mandate education for sustainable development which encourages changes in knowledge, skills, values and attitude to enable a just society for all. As its tagline says “Small changes to the choices we make every day make a big difference when widely adopted”. The UK's Global Action Plan was introduced in its current form in the UK by founder and former Director, Trewin Restorick. The UK's first program covered 30,000 households and was supported by thousands of volunteers, who participated and received action packages that provided practical strategies for energy efficiency, waste minimization, and cut-off water use in their homes for procurement. The United Kingdom is well known for their moxie initiatives, such as Clean Air Day and Transform Our World campaigns.

As a matter of prompt action, Global Action Plan has detailed their top three actions to lower air pollution:

  • Improve public understanding of air pollution.
  • Build awareness of how air pollution affects our health.
  • Explain the easy actions we can all take to tackle air pollution, helping to protect the environment and our health.

Another way to reduce air pollution is to consume less. While a lot of the focus is on shopping more sustainably and opting for more eco-friendly produce and goods, the very best thing you can do is to lower your consumption overall. This can include the amount of water- and energy-intensive food, clothes and other items we buy. In addition, choosing the lowest emission form of transportation when possible is another actionable step people can take to help reduce atmospheric emissions.

Conclusion: Greenstand and Clean Air

At its core, Greenstand’s mission is to support global reforestation efforts while alleviating extreme poverty. We support tree planting organizations by providing verification of each tree’s existence, location, and attributes; we also account for tree growers’ efforts so that they are compensated fairly for their works of stewardship.

Our Treetracker platform consists of 4 core components:

  • The Treetracker mobile app, designed to track & monitor trees for users residing in rural regions with low digital literacy
  • The Web Map, which allows anyone in the world to explore over 1 million tree photos taken by growers, and the Admin Panel, which provides tree and grower management tools to organizational leaders
  • The Impact Wallet, which stores Impact Tokens, a digital representation of each tree’s relative value that can be sold or traded with other users
  • The forthcoming Tree Value Matrix will be Greenstand’s rubric for assigning  Relative Impact Values (RIV) to each tree capture photo

With these tools, reforestation efforts can be sustainable and transparent. Trees come with countless co-benefits to local communities; they provide animal habitats, flood mitigation, enhanced soil health, and, of course, sequestration of atmospheric carbon resulting in better air quality. However, these benefits are not truly seen until a tree reaches adulthood. By paying tree growers to care for trees over time, our planting partners provide incentives to ensure that the world can reap the benefits of fully-grown trees.

Climate change has arrived at our doorsteps, but we know that the most vulnerable communities on our planet, particularly those in developing countries, face the brunt of the climate crisis and will continue to live in peril if we do not take bold, global action. If you’re interested in supporting one of our tree planting projects, please check out our Treetrackers page.


Anusreeta Dutta | Communications Contributor | anusreetadutta.39@gmail.com

Erin Baker | Communications Lead | erin.baker@greenstand.org


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