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Air Convention discusses cooperation with countries from outside UNECE region

Clean air is an essential need for all of us. Our health, our environment, even our economy depends on it. Every year 7 million people die prematurely globally because of exposure to air pollution.

The majority of air pollutant-related deaths occur in developing countries, with Western Pacific and South East Asia being the most affected regions. But no region or country is unscathed. Pollution knows no borders and can travel thousands of kilometers, as evidenced by research conducted in the 1960s and 1970s, which led to the adoption of the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution in 1979 under the auspices of UNECE.

With 40 years of experience, the Convention has achieved significant emissions reductions in the region and has been a model for international cooperation on environment at a time when diplomatic relations between countries in the region were strained.

In 2016, the Scientific Assessment Report of the Convention showed that despite this success, more progress is still needed. Today, even if emissions are reduced at the street, urban and national level, background levels of pollution influenced by transboundary sources are still higher than what WHO recommends as guideline values. This is why international cooperation on the transboundary part of air pollution, including beyond the UNECE region, is key.

Acknowledging the need for further sharing of existing knowledge through regional and inter-regional cooperation, as recognized in a number of different international fora, including in the latest resolution on air pollution of the United Nations Environment Assembly and through the First WHO Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health, the Convention organized a Global event on clean air (12-13 December) during the 38th session of its Executive Body in Geneva.

Convention Parties and representatives of Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, India, Mexico, Mongolia, Pakistan and Republic of Korea gathered alongside international organizations to share experiences on how to prevent and reduce air pollution and discuss options to further enhance inter-regional cooperation, building on existing national and regional activities.

Several countries stressed that public awareness on transboundary pollution is growing. Participants emphasized the need for further international cooperation and integrated approaches between climate and air policies. While some participants stressed that air pollution is becoming a social equity problem, others stressed principle 10 of the Rio Declaration – which sets out the principles of environmental democracy – and the right to know about the quality of air we breathe. Participants agreed that awareness raising, communication and further information and knowledge sharing were important.

With the Convention having accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience over the past 40 years, specifically on the scientific level, the event was also an opportunity to share lessons learned from the Convention and to exchange experiences on challenges and best practices in addressing the air pollution challenge in a transboundary context. In this context, the Batumi Action for Cleaner Air (BACA) initiative was also highlighted as a tool to raise awareness at the national level.

The event concluded with a discussion on the way forward on international cooperation to reduce air pollution. While it was agreed that any new cooperation should build on existing structures to avoid duplication, information sharing and exchange of experiences among countries and regions were recommended as a first step to improve cooperation on the global level. This is also in line with the new Long-term Strategy for the Convention that was adopted by the Parties to the Convention during the Executive Body session. The science and policy bodies under the Convention will pick up these discussions and consult on further steps on the proposal to establish a proposal for a forum on further international cooperation in 2019.