Excellencies, Distinguished guests,
It is my pleasure to be with you at the International Forum on Transboundary Air Pollution, in commemoration of the 3rd International Day of Clean Air for blue skies.
Air pollution is one of our region’s most pressing environmental, health, and economic challenge facing us today. Pollution exempts no one from its impact. It is my hope that this Forum is not only a discussion about air pollution, but a platform for urgent action to save lives.
We know that two thirds of the 7 million premature deaths accountable to air pollution each year are in our region, and more than 90 percent of our population breathe air that poses health risks.
Globally, it is believed that the average life expectancy of individuals exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution decreases by 2.2 years. In our region, this can be as high as eight years.
There are however, significant inequities in the impact of air pollution worldwide. At the local scale, poorer or disadvantaged communities often are exposed to higher levels of air pollution, and globally, low- and middle-income countries see both high exposures and large health impacts.
Air pollution disproportionately affects those with the least resources to protect themselves and specifically children and older persons, with household air pollution disproportionately affecting women and children the most.
Now is the time to focus on the solutions to this critical challenge and capitalize on the multiple benefits of clean air.
Our region’s air pollution comes from a myriad of sources, and solutions must be responsive to those contexts.
Phasing out coal-based energy and building renewable energy systems will immediately improve air quality.
Low-carbon mobility transitions must be part of local and national actions to improve air quality.
Promoting sustainable agricultural processes, including mechanization to eliminate harmful emissions from crop burning is essential to clean air and to securing the region’s food supply, and can help small-scale farmers to improve their livelihoods.
No country can tackle this problem alone. Pollution has no borders and can travel across most of a continent within three to four days. This is why we need to address it as a regional and transboundary issue.
Regional cooperation is essential. I am encouraged that these Clean Air Days and the subregional dialogues on air pollution that ESCAP organized earlier this year have led to member States deliberating on actions to be taken to strengthen regional cooperation on air pollution.
Elements of regional cooperation must build on existing subregional initiatives, and include strengthening air quality standards, sharing data, exchanging best practices, building capacities across the region, and committing to long-term multilateral cooperation to eliminate air pollution.
In this regard, I applaud the collaborative approach of countries in North-East Asia to address air pollution through the North-East Asia Clean Air Partnership and appreciate the leadership of the Republic of Korea in promoting the collaboration.
Building upon these experiences, let us recommit to tackling this problem together. Now, at this third commemoration of the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, we should all fully understand the problem, the unique circumstances of each country, and the effects on all of our citizens.
Today should further boost awareness and our common message should be that we need to take action now and work as one for the air we share.
I look forward to a robust discussion.
Thank you very much.