European Union External Action

We are what we breathe – marking the first ever day of clean air for blue skies

07/09/2020 - 08:00

Clean air is essential to our health and to the environment. Since the industrial revolution, the quality of the air we breathe has deteriorated considerably. The human toll for poor air quality is worse than for road traffic accidents. Air pollution is the single greatest environmental risk to human health: around 6,5 million premature deaths across the world are due to air pollution. Particularly in developing countries, air pollution disproportionately affects women, children and old people.

The EU's existing clean air policy has significantly contributed to improving air quality, but more needs to be done. Investing in cleaner air means investing in our health, in our climate, and is a basic requirement to boost our economy needs. The European Green Deal is set to respond to these needs, reconciling the economy with our planet.

Today, 7 September 2020, marks the very first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies to raise public awareness on the importance of clean air for health, productivity, the economy and the environment.

Air pollution is a global problem and affects regions far away from where it is generated due to its transport over long distances. In 2017 the UN Environment Assembly adopted a resolution on preventing and reducing air pollution to improve air quality globally.

Poor air quality is a challenge for sustainable development in all countries, in particular in cities and urban areas in developing countries, with levels of air pollution that are higher than the limits set out in the World Health Organization air quality guidelines.

Air pollution has both a health and a climate impact. Some air pollutants, such as black carbon, methane and ground-level ozone, are also short-lived climate pollutants and are responsible for manya significant portion of air pollution-related deaths, as well as impacts on crops and hence food security, so their reduction has co-benefits for the climate.

The international community acknowledges that improving air quality can enhance climate change mitigation and that climate change mitigation efforts can improve air quality.

Encouraged by the increasing interest of the international community in clean air, and emphasizing the need to make further efforts to improve air quality, including reducing air pollution, to protect human health, the UN General Assembly decided to designate 7 September as the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies.

Within the EU, public awareness about air pollution is high and citizens expect authorities to act. In a recent opinion poll on the environment in the EU, air pollution was cited as the issue of most concern for citizens after climate change. They have legitimate expectations that effective action will be taken at all levels to reduce air pollution and protect them from its harmful effects.

To address this, the EU has set the goal to achieve levels of air quality that do not give rise to negative impacts on, and risks to, human health and the environment. To meet this objective, effective air quality policies require action and cooperation at global, European, national and local levels.

Effective implementation of clean air legislation forms an essential contribution to ‘a zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment' announced in the European Green Deal and related initiatives. Synergies with climate and energy policies need to be enhanced and further assessed, also in line with the European Green Deal approach.

An initiative called Clean Sky, funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, is the largest European research programme developing innovative, cutting-edge technology aimed at reducing CO2, gas emissions and noise levels produced by aircraft. Clean Sky contributes to strengthening European aero-industry collaboration, global leadership and competitiveness.