Air pollution causes over 7 million premature deaths worldwide and citizens living in urban areas are most affected, making it the world's largest environmental health risk according to the WHO. In fact, one out of 10 people living in cities do not breathe safe air.
Reducing air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone, and particulate matter in our cities can produce substantial and immediate gains in public health, as well as slow near-term climate change. But can this be the reality for urban areas: healthy cities where air pollution levels no longer pose a risk to citizens?
This vision was set forth on May 12 by the European Commission’s EU Action Plan ‘Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil’. Within the framework of the European Green Deal, this ambitious action plan aims to significantly improve the health of natural ecosystems by placing an emphasis on digital technologies.
“The case for the EU to lead the global fight against pollution is today stronger than ever,” explained Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries. “With the Zero Pollution Action Plan, we will create a healthy living environment for Europeans, contribute to a resilient recovery and boost transition to a clean, circular and climate neutral economy.”
The announcement serves as the precursor for EU Green Week 2021, the biggest annual event on environment policy taking place from May 31 - June 4. It’s an opportunity for citizens to actively participate in virtual exhibits and conferences on improving air quality across Europe. Engaged stakeholders and interested citizens will work together to find pathways for achieving a zero-pollution, toxic-free future.
This is the same type of multi-stakeholder engagement that drives Climathons across the world. Every year, local organisers, participants, and partners unite and generate ideas to solve climate challenges - including air pollution - in hundreds of cities around the globe.
The cities of London, Galway, and Liege recently launched air pollution challenges at Climathon 2020 where teams developed solutions that spanned from the greening of urban centres to reducing emissions across supply chains.
But large-scale change also commands actions from businesses and governments, not only individuals. Municipalities have the opportunity to implement urban measures such as energy-efficient buildings, high-quality public transit, walking and cycling networks, and methane gas capture from municipal sewage and solid waste - in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Because air pollution is a global issue affecting citizens everywhere, Climathon 2021 is preparing to tackle this challenge outside of the EU, in New York, Beirut, and Calgary. These three cities are part of a global Climathon powered by ideanco and hosted by the World Green Economy Organization (WGEO) and in partnership with the United Nations, Impact Hub New York Metropolitan Area and Harvard Aerospace and Defense Alumni Organization at Harvard University.
"These are cities that share similar climate challenges across the world, therefore, the solutions produced can make a global impact,” remarked ideanco CEO Maher Ezzeddine.
The winning solutions of the ideanco Climathon will join ideanco’s 9-month incubation programme where their concept can be translated into a tangible product or an intangible service such as an app. The ultimate goal is to create job opportunities in the industries of the future - especially cleantech - to curb air pollution at scale.
The ideanco Climathon will be held on October 2 – 12, 2021, connecting innovators in nine cities across North America and Asia to resolve three core challenges: Agribusiness, Air Pollution, and Mobility. The cities of Boston (USA), Tampa (USA), Toronto (Canada), Vancouver (Canada), San Diego (USA), and Dubai (UAE) will also be participating.
“Over the next five years, air pollution will be a critical issue. But progress is already being made in developing more sustainable infrastructure and mobility, which will absolutely minimize CO2 emissions moving forward,” said Ezzeddine. “I am certain that the future of air pollution will be a positive story to tell.”