Greetings from Nairobi, and thank you for joining us at this virtual event!
I’d like to start by thanking our moderator, Ms. Sheila Aggarwhal-Khan of the United Nations Environment Program, and all the panelists and presenters who are taking time to share their thoughts.
I am glad to be joining you as we wrap up negotiations for the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly. Tomorrow, we celebrate 50 years of the UN Environment Program.
Reducing and eliminating pollution, including the impacts of air pollution, are key priorities of the Biden-Harris Administration, and are central to my mission as Assistant Secretary of State.
Air pollution is deadly, and it knows no borders. That’s why it’s critical we come together to address the long-term challenges of air pollution to public health, economies, and the planet.
The fact that we’re all here virtually due to COVID-19 is a striking reminder of one way in which air quality touches our lives.
As the global community faces the COVID-19 pandemic, we must also recognize that worsening air quality exacerbates the effects of COVID-19, for individuals, and for health care systems.
Ongoing exposure to air pollution makes people more susceptible to respiratory diseases, and may delay recovery for those that do get sick. Health care systems strained by COVID-19 may now struggle to care for those with other respiratory conditions from chronic air pollution.
It is often difficult to know the direct consequences of air pollution, but experts estimate between seven to ten million deaths across the globe each year are due to air pollution. This includes millions of cases of heart disease, diabetes, and pneumonia.
Reducing air pollution not only improves health outcomes, it also makes good economic sense. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calculated a 30 to 1 return on investments for U.S. initiatives to reduce air pollution. And other countries have reported similar benefits.
The United States has grappled with our own air quality issues for decades. Thankfully, since the U.S. Congress enacted the Clean Air Act in 1970, aggregate U.S. emissions of common air pollutants decreased by 77 percent over the past 50 years.
And you know what? During the same 50 years, our GDP grew by 285 percent. So, believe me when I say reducing air pollution makes good economic sense.
So what can we do as a global community to best address this air pollution crisis?
Air pollution is a regional problem that requires regional solutions. Regional cooperation among neighboring countries is critical to improving air quality, and regional frameworks are a natural avenue for coordination.
I’d like to make the case for regional cooperation and regional frameworks by highlighting some of our successes. I’ll start by highlighting one of our best examples of regional air quality cooperation – with our neighbors in Canada. As a part of our coordination, the United States and Canada share scientific know-how to reduce the risk and impacts of forest fires, and coordinate domestic policies to achieve the greatest benefit from initiatives to reduce and address the impacts of air pollution.
Beyond our neighbors in North America, the United States also supports the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, known as LRTAP. Since LRTAP came into effect in 1983, emissions of many air pollutants in Europe have decreased by 40 to 80 percent.
Our collective success in cleaning the air in North America and Europe comes in part from countries investing in technology and training people on how best to use it.
Despite the availability of low-cost sensors, satellite data, and modeling to inform policy- making, there are many places in the world where data on air quality simply doesn’t exist. And it’s nearly impossible for policymakers trying to reduce air pollution while blindfolded.
Regional cooperation offers an opportunity to build air quality data and management capacity, from the ground up if need be.
First, regional frameworks could serve as a focal point for regional data networks that should also consider human health and human exposure data.
Second, regional coordination offers a unique opportunity to share knowledge, best practices, and training on how best to interpret and leverage data to inform and assess the impact of cost- effective, locally-appropriate pollution management strategies.
Finally, regional frameworks provide a natural mechanism for coordinating donor assistance for air pollution initiatives, ensuring that external resources have maximum impact in providing sustainable pathways for achieving clean air.
Over the next two years, we look forward to working with many of you – our international partners – to shape the global architecture for regional air quality cooperation. Our hope is to have a strong proposal ready for UNEA 6 that builds upon the successes and lessons learned from LRTAP.
Thank you all for listening, and we look forward to building on our conversations today.