Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to the second commemoration of the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies. I would like to acknowledge the Republic of Korea for its leadership in raising awareness, of the urgency to address the challenges of air pollution and for the sponsorship of the ESCAP resolution 75/4 to strengthen regional cooperation to tackle air pollution. I also commend the United Nations Environment Programme for leading the global commemorations of this important day.
In the Asia-Pacific region, air pollution remains a constant problem. Over 90% of our region’s population breathes air that poses significant risks to health and livelihoods. Our region is home to some of the world’s dirtiest air. Over 6.67 million death worldwide related to air pollution were recorded in 2019 alone, including 1.67 million in India. As the region continues to grow, the air pollution affects billions of lives, our economies and our environment.
In our region, vehicle emissions, agricultural burning, industrial waste and fossil fuel-based energy production are just some of the sources of air pollution. The sources and causes vary across the region, but the negative impacts are shared and common to all. Health, especially the health of children and vulnerable communities, economic costs ranging from health care costs to toxic cleanups, stinting crops, and climate change are the consequences from air pollution. The major pollutants impacting our health are those contributing to global warming.
The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlighted that climate change is ‘widespread, rapid and intensifying, and some trends are now irreversible.’ Decarbonization is imperative if we are to limit climate change and limit the disasters of floods and typhoons that this region knows too well. Improving air quality is a necessary step and we know that solutions exist to clean our air, and the climate crisis makes it even more urgent that we do so. It is past time for all of us to clean up our act by cleaning our air.
We need to ensure that countries are adopting – and enforcing – regulations and policies that establish clean air standards. Such regulations should strengthen vehicle emission standards and regulations on industries from manufacturing to agriculture to restrict the release of pollutants.
Recognizing science-based policymaking is essential. Air quality monitoring and the use of data and technologies, including satellite imagery, artificial intelligence and machine learning, to track sources and to fingerprint the chemical composition of air pollution can inform the most appropriate policies and solutions. Governments should invest in strengthening capacities to measure and monitor air quality.
Low-emission and low-carbon solutions for transitions to renewable energy are critical. Designing and implementing efficient and affordable public transportation systems, implementing congestion charges, and facilitating electric vehicles and services will reduce emissions. Industries should retrofit or upgrade equipment to prevent pollutants from their manufacturing and agricultural processes. Sustainable agricultural mechanization can reduce pollutants from crop burning and provide additional benefits to smallholder farmers. Governments could develop appropriate incentives to support these transitions to align with stronger regulations.
Last but not least, we must strengthen regional cooperation. Air pollution is a transboundary problem that no single government or jurisdiction can solve on its own. It is clear that we do not yet have in place the regional mechanisms that can reverse air pollution. I encourage countries to come together with the United Nations and partners as coalitions for action and set up mechanisms to address this critical issue, including through the development of harmonised standards, enhanced data-sharing and information systems, exchange of best practices and collective action.
The United Nations system is working through an Issues-Based Coalition on Climate Change Mitigation and Air Pollution to support member States and local authorities to tackle air pollution. We hope to strengthen regional cooperation among member States and non-governmental agencies, improve data and information systems, raise awareness and mobilize support for more action.
In the coming months, we will be conducting a series of sub-regional dialogues on air pollution. I encourage all member States to participate so that opportunities to work toward regional solutions and mechanisms can be realized.
We look forward to working with all delegations and stakeholders to meet this challenge and I thank you for your commitment to cleaning our air.
Thank you very much.