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More funding needed globally to fight air pollution crisis

According to an annual Clean Air Fund survey, fossil fuel projects around the world received more funding in 2019 and 2020 than clean air initiatives

This aerial file photograph shows western Paris, the Seine river and the Eiffel Tower (C), with air pollution visible in the background on September 15, 2020. (AFP)

Despite numerous reports linking air pollution to premature deaths, a new global survey has revealed that air pollution reduction receives less than 1% of government development assistance. This is despite air quality-related deaths in countries receiving aid rising by 153% in the past 30 years.

Moreover, in 2019 and 2020, official development funders invested 21% more in fossil fuel projects than they did in clean air projects, according to The Clean Air Fund’s annual ‘The State of Global Air Quality Funding 2021’ report released on Tuesday. 

Also read: Air pollution costs Indian businesses billions each year

The report, which also marks the UN’s second International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, looks at the global landscape of projects tackling air pollution by donor governments and philanthropic organisations. It also identifies gaps in funding and opportunities for strategic investment and collaboration to deliver clean air for all.

“Overall, governments and philanthropic foundations spent $5.72 billion between 2015-20, a gradual increase over the period. However, preliminary figures suggest this funding dipped by 10% from 2019 ($1.47 billion) to 2020 ($1.33 billion),” the report explains. The overall funding is far short of what is needed to tackle a problem, which causes over 4.2 million deaths every year.

“Governments are investing more aid in prolonging fossil fuel use than in protecting the 9 out of 10 of us breathing harmful and dirty air right now. With public health such a huge global priority and the world waking up to the scale of the climate challenge, this makes no sense at all,” Jane Burston, executive director and founder of the Clean Air Fund said in a news release. “The good news is it can quickly change,” adds Burston who said there is an urgent need for more funding and stronger targets to deliver clean air for all.

Morning haze envelops the skyline on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020.
Morning haze envelops the skyline on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. (AP)

Funding from philanthropic foundations to clean air projects increased by 17% in 2020 to $44.7 million. However, funding from official development sources is hugely unequal. Very little financial support is reaching the hardest hit areas: for instance, Africa and Latin America receive just 5% and 10% of aid funding, respectively, despite housing some of the world’s most polluted cities and regions. According to the report, 80% of aid goes via loans to middle-income countries in Asia.

Among the top recipients of primary and secondary official development funding between 2015-2020, India ranked 8th, receiving US$183.7 million. China ranked highest with close to US$2500 million.

This report and its findings come at a crucial time. In recent days, more reports have highlighted the risks associated with long-term exposure to air pollution. According to a study by the University of Chicago, released earlier this week, the world’s worst air pollution could shorten the lives of 480 million people -- more than the entire US population -- by as much as 8 and a half years across northern India.

Also read: Facing the covid-19 and air pollution ‘twindemic’

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