Breathe Cities unveils new cohort of cities to join ambitious initiative to fight toxic air pollution

Today, during the COP28 Local Climate Action Summit, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Clean Air Fund, and C40 Cities announced a new cohort of cities to benefit from funding, technical support, air quality data, community engagement, capacity building, and additional support as part of the Breathe Cities clean air initiative.

This US$30 million initiative, launched earlier this year by Michael R. Bloomberg, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Ambition and Solutions and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, and London Mayor and C40 Co-Chair Sadiq Khan, aims to reduce air pollution, slash carbon emissions, and enhance public health.

The new cohort of Breathe Cities is a diverse group of global cities including: Accra, Ghana; Brussels, Belgium; Jakarta, Indonesia; Johannesburg, South Africa; Milan, Italy; Nairobi, Kenya; Paris, France; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Sofia, Bulgaria. This group joins together with Breathe Cities’ pilot programs launched in Warsaw, Poland in 2022 and London, United Kingdom in 2019.

Breathe Cities builds on existing efforts led by Bloomberg Philanthropies, C40 Cities, and the Clean Air Fund in many of these cities to track air pollution and shape public advocacy and policy measures to reduce pollution. Now, convening under one banner and with dedicated support, the cities announced today will join together in a first-of-its-kind partnership to exchange knowledge and scale local impact.

Carefully selected for their commitment to advancing ambitious policies addressing the dual challenges of air pollution and climate emissions, the participating local governments were chosen based on criteria such as geographic diversity, air pollution and emissions intensity, engaged civil society, strong political interest and leadership, scalability potential, and capacity to implement action plans, among other metrics.

Through an evidence-based strategy, combining data, policy, and community engagement, Breathe Cities has the ambitious goal of contributing to reducing air pollution by 30% on average across participating cities by 2030 compared to 2019 levels. Such a bold reduction would prevent an estimated 39,000 premature deaths and around 79,000 new cases of asthma in children each decade, saving US$107 billion in avoided hospitalisations and deaths. By 2030, a total of 284 Megatonnes of CO2e emissions would be avoided among participating cities – a monumental win for both people and the planet.

“One of the most effective ways to tackle climate change and protect public health is through reducing air pollution,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions and founder of Bloomberg L.P. and Bloomberg Philanthropies. “With the right technology, data and policy, cities can lead the way in cleaning the air. Bloomberg Philanthropies is looking forward to working with these cities to help them implement ambitious solutions that will help improve and save lives.”

“Toxic air pollution is a dual threat, impacting both the public health of our cities as well as furthering the climate crisis,” said Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London and Co-Chair of C40 Cities. “As co-chair of C40 Cities, I’ve seen how collaboration can accelerate progress on the challenges we face. By partnering with Bloomberg Philanthropies and Clean Air Fund, we will be able to provide cities with the data and capacity they need to push for stronger and more effective policies that reduce air pollution and deliver cleaner, healthier air to their residents.”

“Empowering cities to tackle air pollution will have a direct impact on public health and wellbeing and unlock a host of wider economic and environmental benefits,” said Jane Burston, CEO, Clean Air Fund. “Our partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and C40 Cities will bring together a robust network of cities to share valuable lessons and success stories while also advancing the adoption of innovative new technologies and research and supporting local efforts to implement effective solutions.”

Breathe Cities was launched in June 2023 as a partnership between Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Clean Air Fund, and C40 Cities to save lives, improve health, and reduce air pollution that is both harmful to public health and the climate. The initiative builds on Mayor Khan’s visionary work to tackle air pollution in London. The pilot Breathe London project was designed to support policies like the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). Today, the ULEZ is one of the world’s most ambitious efforts to combat urban air pollution. Measuring 1,500 km2 and covering the whole capital, it is the largest clean air zone of its kind on earth. The highly targeted scheme is designed to take the most polluting vehicles off London’s roads, helping nine million people to breathe cleaner air.

Air pollution is one of the most urgent global issues. Almost no urban area has air quality that meets the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. 41% of cities have air pollution over seven times higher than WHO’s recommendation, meaning their residents are breathing dangerously polluted air that can cause a suite of health issues such as asthma and respiratory illnesses. Air pollution is also associated with 7 million premature deaths each year. And worldwide, air pollution costs the global economy US$8.1 trillion, the equivalent of 6.1% of global GDP. Residents who live in cities where density, geography, and pollution from transportation and industry pose unique daily hazards live face to face with this reality.

Breathe Cities will arm cities with resources and support by focusing on four key pillars:

Data and Research: Expand the availability of local air quality data through the use of innovative new technologies and research into causes of air pollution to provide local governments with evidence for implementing and enforcing new policies.
Stakeholder and Community Engagement: Engage local campaigns and grassroots organisers to build awareness and support for air quality action, especially for communities most affected by air pollution.
Technical Policy Assistance: Support local governments and city halls to develop and deliver clean air policies by providing technical assistance and capacity building to support policymakers in identifying and implementing solutions.
Lesson Sharing: Share learnings across cities to help other cities to act.

“As a coastal city, Accra and its people are experiencing the harsh impacts of climate change and environmental stressors,” said George Bray, Dean, Greater Accra Metropolitan and Municipal Chief Executives. “It is critical for us to address toxic air pollution to protect not only the health of our residents, but also the health of our coastal ecosystems and assure food security. With the research tools, increased capacity, and shared learning from the Breathe Cities initiative, we’re thrilled to breathe life into the City of Accra.”

“As the Governor of Jakarta, I recognise the urgent need to address the air quality issues affecting our capital city,” said Heru Budi Hartono, Governor of Jakarta. “Our partnership with Breathe Cities will allow us to harness the power of advanced monitoring technology and data analysis to better locate sources of pollution, curb the worst health impacts from vehicle and industrial pollution, and turn Jakarta into a healthier, more livable city for all.”

“Air quality is a key environmental objective for the City of Milan, and support from the Breathe Cities initiative will be instrumental in meeting our climate goals,” said Giuseppe Sala, Mayor of Milan and C40 Vice Chair Europe. “As a city facing geographical challenges in terms of air stagnation and pollution concentration, the data-driven solutions and technical support will be a catalyst for improving air quality and informing policy.”

“Air pollution is responsible for at least 48,000 premature deaths in France every year,” said Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris. “Through our partnership with the Breathe Cities initiative, we can begin to implement policy that is supported by the shared learnings from other cities facing the same emergency coupled with accurate, local air monitoring data – leading to cleaner, breathable air for all Parisians.”

“In the highly populated city of Rio de Janeiro, keeping our air clean and healthy is of the utmost importance,” said Eduardo Paes, Mayor of Rio de Janeiro. “To be able to learn from other large cities from across the globe on how they monitor and address toxic air pollution makes for an incredible opportunity to make long lasting improvements on the home front – only through this unique collaboration, is this possible.”

“Together, as stewards of our environment, we will combat air pollution, strive for safer air to breathe and ensure a better tomorrow for our cities,” said Rafal Trzaskowski, Mayor of Warsaw. “With the help of the Breathe Cities initiative, we’re able to use data and new technologies to better understand the ominous problem that is air pollution. In Warsaw, our city’s heartbeat echoes with the resilience to protect and preserve the quality of our climate and environment, and we will work tirelessly to build technical capacity to make our clean air future a reality.”

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