In November, the World Health Organisation hosted in collaboration with other international organizations, the first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health. The conference is the result of a long-standing interest from WHO in air pollution and gathered together leaders in the field in trying to put forward a strategy to tackle air pollution. Under the headline “Improving air quality, tackling climate change – saving lives”, the conference aimed to bring a sense of urgency on the impacts of air pollution on both #health and #environment. Looking at the unfolding of the meeting, three aspects stand out:
1. Awareness campaign
While the event was ground-breaking, the global campaign to raise awareness of air pollution as a global health issue has not made much noise, unlike say the campaign for reducing plastic pollution. WHO took the event as an opportunity to invite more cities and countries to join the #BreatheLife global campaign. The conference calls for renewed attention to the #BreatheLife campaign, aiming to reach 500 BreatheLife cities and 20 states by 2020, that commit to achieving WHO air quality guidelines levels by 2030.
2. Corporate involvement
There was a lack of focus on the role of businesses on the issue and a lack of engagement from business leaders with the event. This is a loss for both sides, as a productive discussion on solutions to reducing poor air quality and combating air pollution needs to include businesses. In this sense, the conference organisers missed a key player, while corporations missed an opportunity to engage with an issue that either matters or will matter more to consumers.
3. Agenda setting
With this event, WHO managed to take the problem of air pollution from the realm of domestic politics (e.g. public health) and put it on the agenda of global politics. It reinforces the argument that air pollution is a worldwide health concern and convinced stakeholders to treat it as such. This also shows a commitment from WHO in taking the lead and providing an environment to discuss potential solutions, giving it enough space on the agenda.
Overall, the conference acted as an opportunity for reflection and a call to action on the issue of climate-related health concerns. There is a lot to be done in this area regarding real measures to help reach the aim of reducing a third of air pollution-related death rates by 2030. Commitments from national governments and a dialogue with industries should be the next step in moving closer to that goal.