The importance of clean air for the quality of our lives has recently been recognised by the United Nations General Assembly. What is more is that in the General Assembly session at the end of July, Member States overwhelmingly adopted a resolution recognising that a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, including air, land and water, is a human right.
In the UNECE region, countries came together 40 years ago to work together on cleaner air in the framework of the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution. While the results of this collective effort have already led to better air quality, 600,000 premature deaths avoided annually and ecosystem recovery from air pollution damage, there are still challenges within and beyond the region. As air pollutants do not stop at national borders, they affect countries far away from their point of emission.
This means that for those pollutants (e.g. ground-level ozone, particulate matter) that stay in the atmosphere for a long time and are transported across regions, international cooperation, even beyond the boundaries of the region that is covered by the Convention, is needed. It is also increasingly evident that local air pollution, including in cities, is heavily influenced by the long-range and transboundary transport of pollutants. In addition, air pollution links with many other policy fields, such as climate, food, energy and ecosystems, which increasingly requires a global integrated approach to environmental policymaking.
Recognizing the importance of stronger cooperation both within and beyond the UNECE region and the need to further share the Convention’s experience and expertise, Convention Parties in 2019 launched the Forum for international cooperation on air pollution, which aims to support international exchange of information and mutual learning on both the technical and policy levels and is intended to be a repository for technical information and a convener of countries and organizations, facilitating increased international cooperation on this critical challenge. The related Task Force for International Cooperation on Air Pollution, chaired by Sweden and the UK, held its first meeting this week (Bristol, UK, 11-12 October 2022).
At the meeting, Convention Parties, countries from other regions and other interested stakeholders discussed best practices for capacity building, mutual learning, and regional cooperation to improve air quality and the role multilateral and national programmes have played in that. They also heard from national governments and international organisations on key ingredients required to improve regional cooperation on air pollution. Stakeholders also discussed common challenges, needs for air quality improvements and possible approaches to take forward international collaboration and inter-regional cooperation on air pollution.
The results of the Task Force meeting will shape the first Forum event, which will be held in Sweden in March 2023.