The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) partnered with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to celebrate this year’s International Day of Clean Air for blue skies. The theme for this year’s day is The Air We Share to focus on the transboundary nature of air pollution that requires collective accountability and global, regional and local cooperation.
Air pollution does not have boundaries; it is intrinsically a transboundary problem. Depending on the local or regional atmospheric conditions, any mass of polluted air produced indoors or outdoors can be carried by wind, moving from one place to another, crossing local, national, regional and even transcontinental boundaries. Mobile emitting sources like ships and planes pollute the air with exhaust gases. Through global distillation, known also as the “grasshopper effect,” persistent organic pollutants (POPs) like DDT are transported from the tropics and warmer places to the North and South Poles, and colder places. Pollutants like mercury can evaporate and attach to airborne particles until it is removed by gravitational force or elements such as rain, snow, or fog.
In 1974, scientists Mario Molina, Sherwood Rowland and Paul Crutzen discovered that the ozone layer was being depleted through the use of common household chemicals like refrigerants and spray can gases; they won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1995. This great discovery led to the adoption of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer on 16 September 1987, which has served as a reference for other multilateral environmental agreements like the Stockholm Convention on POPs and the Minamata Convention on Mercury.
For this reason, and aligned to the topic “We care about the right to clean air: UN work on industry, environment and health” the three UN agencies came together to share perspectives on industry approaches to meeting air quality standards, as well as ways to contribute to cleaner air that protects health and the environment. Any single effort to deal with indoor and outdoor air pollution locally adds to those made by others and can result in positive impacts globally.
With the support of a number of funding partners, including the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Global Climate Fund (GCF) and the European Union (EU), UNIDO supports Member States in the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements related to the reduction or elimination of emissions of toxic air pollutants.
Through its work on the Minamata Convention, UNIDO is helping to reduce mercury use in the artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector by installing mercury-free processing plants in Burkina Faso, Mongolia and the Philippines. These projects are funded by the GEF under the planetGOLD programme. In the past two years UNIDO has also reduced or phased out over 7,500 metric tons of pollutants through its work related to the Stockholm Convention on POPs, also with support from GEF. UNIDO interventions in support of the Montreal Protocol have led to the phasing out of almost 80,000 metric tons of ozone depleting substances in over 90 countries since 2010.
As air pollution contributes to climate change and causes significant damage to human health and our natural environment, actions in this area can reap multiple benefits across industrial sectors from the fashion industry to construction.