Clean air economics: Financial institutions urged to act

Paris. Copyright Canva.
Copyright Canva.
By Eleanor Butler
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A commission chaired by former New Zealand PM and former WHO Chief Scientist calls on the World Bank and others to act on air pollution.


Eighteen influential global figures are calling for more robust measures to tackle air pollution ahead of the World Bank and IMF Spring Meetings in Washington DC next week.

The "Our Common Air" Commission says that airborne toxins are currently a threat to our climate, health, and economies, but that the issue is not yet getting the attention it deserves.

It is estimated that air pollution causes seven million premature deaths a year, notably as it is linked to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

"Clean air is not just something that costs money to achieve, but is an asset which can improve health and productivity, and drive new models of economic growth and sustainable development more generally," said Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and co-chair of "Our Common Air".

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, former Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization and also a co-chair, added: "Cleaning our air is about building a shared asset that allows children to run free without wheezing, elders to enjoy active lives, and communities and workforces to thrive."

The "Our Common Air" commission is made up of government officials and health and climate experts from a dozen countries.

Members include Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown; H.E. María Espinosa, former Ecuadorian Foreign Minister and United Nations General Assembly President; Gina McCarthy, former Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency and Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor of London.

The group is hoping that financial institutions, in particular the World Bank, will do more to track the economic benefits that come from clean air, so that its value is recognised.

Aside from direct health implications, dirty air has also been linked to lower educational outcomes and reduced labour productivity.

Breathing in toxins can cause cognitive impairments, and the mental and physical effects of pollution can lead to higher rates of non-attendance at work or school.

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