• Launch of Breathe Cities boosts London Climate Action Week with Bloomberg Philanthropies committing US$ 30 million to turbocharge cities to reduce air pollution, cut carbon emissions, and improve public health.
  • The initiative will take Mayor Khan’s visionary work to tackle air pollution in London global – one of his top priorities as Chair of C40.

Today, on the first day of London Climate Week, Michael R. Bloomberg, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Ambition and Solutions and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, and Mayor of London and C40 Chair Sadiq Khan announced the launch of Breathe Cities to break down barriers to action and ensure communities around the world have access to clean air.  

The new US$ 30 million clean air initiative is 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. Funding, technical support, air quality data, community engagement, capacity building and more will be provided to a group of cities to be announced later this year. 

The initiative builds on Mayor Khan’s visionary work to tackle air pollution in London. In August, Mayor Khan will oversee the London-wide expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone, his world-leading initiative to reduce vehicle pollution, ensuring five million more Londoners will breathe cleaner air. The ULEZ has already been revolutionary in London, already benefiting four million Londoners, with harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations 21% lower in inner London than they would be without the ULEZ and 46% lower in central London. Since the ULEZ was first introduced four years ago it has led to a reduction of around 800,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions from vehicles across London – showing how air quality and carbon reduction are linked issues.

Almost no urban area has air quality that meets the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO). 41% of cities have air pollution over 7 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. 

“Cities around the world are proving that, with the right technology and support, they can reduce air pollution, protect public health, and fight climate change,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions and founder of Bloomberg L.P. and Bloomberg Philanthropies. “Building on the effective work of London and others, our new Breathe Cities initiative brings together strong partners to help even more local leaders craft ambitious and equitable policies that can save and improve lives.”

“As Chair of C40 Cities, I am committed to working collaboratively across national borders and city boundaries to tackle air pollution and address the climate crisis,” said Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London and Chair of C40 Cities. “Toxic air pollution is a public health crisis in many of our cities – leading to premature death and chronic disease. Countries in the Global South – which have contributed the least to climate change throughout history – are most severely affected, bearing the brunt of climate chaos. In my own city, to help drive down emissions, we are expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone London-wide, meaning five million more Londoners can breathe cleaner air. I’m proud that this partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, Clean Air Fund, and C40 Cities will enable cities across the globe to drive down emissions and tackle the air pollution crisis head on.”

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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
  4. Lesson Sharing: Share learnings across cities to help other cities to act. 

“Clean air is a fundamental necessity for everyone to live, grow, and thrive. That is why we are proud to partner with Bloomberg Philanthropies and C40 Cities, to tackle air pollution in cities across the world,” said Jane Burston, Executive Director, Clean Air Fund. “By advancing action at the local level, promoting new data and technologies, and building a robust network to share valuable lessons along with fostering community cohesion, we are collectively empowering cities to improve air quality and address one of the greatest public health problems of our time. Together, we can create a future where everyone can breathe clean air.” 

“With 7 million deaths every year caused by air pollution, tackling the toxic air we breathe cannot wait,” said Dr. Maria Neira, the World Health Organisation’s Director of Environment, climate change and health. “Nine out of every 10 people around the world, particularly those living in cities, are breathing air that is not consistent with WHO standards. Innovative solutions like this new partnership will help to arm mayors and other local leaders with political and technical support to implement stricter air quality standards and ensure people can breathe freely.”

“Air pollution is the greatest environmental threat to human health,” said Martina Otto, Head of Secretariat, Climate and Clean Air Coalition, UN Environment Programme. “We must tackle air pollution locally, regionally, and globally to combat this climate and health emergency. Breathe Cities has the potential to bring about health, development, and environmental benefits by removing barriers and actively working towards cleaner air. We commend Mike Bloomberg and Mayor Sadiq Khan for this new initiative, and look forward to partnering to create healthier, more livable cities where present and future generations can breathe freely.” 

“The difference between clean and polluted air is a matter of life and death for so many,” said Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah CBE, World Health Organization advocate for health and air quality and founder of the Ella Roberta Family Foundation. “Millions of people are living with the health consequences of breathing dirty air — asthma, cancer, autoimmune diseases, miscarriages, and more noncommunicable diseases. While there is still more to do, we have made progress improving air quality in London and I applaud this new effort from Mayor Khan and partners to bring the tools that have benefitted London to other cities around the world. No matter where you live, you deserve to breathe clean air, it is a social justice issue as we don’t all breathe the same air.”

“Clean air is a fundamental human right and we must take action to address the disproportionate impact that poor air quality has on vulnerable populations across the globe. We particularly need to pay attention to the Global South, where air pollution is worsening and yet there is very limited monitoring capacity to understand the extent and magnitude of the problem to quickly act to protect the growing vulnerable population. This is why I am extremely delighted to see the launch of this new initiative by Mike Bloomberg and Mayor Sadiq Khan, empowering cities globally to scale visionary solutions and measurable advancements in air quality,” said Dr. Kofi Amegah, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at University of Cape Coast, Ghana and Lead, Ghana Urban Air Quality Project (GHAir)

“Through public-private collaboration, we have been able to provide government officials with the up-to-date data needed to make a real impact on air pollution in London,” said Professor Frank Kelly, Battcock Chair in Community Health and Policy at Imperial College London. “We are thrilled to see this collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies expand beyond London to provide communities around the world with the tools they need to combat air pollution, save lives, and improve economies.”

At COP26 in 2021, Mayor Khan called for the creation of Breathe Cities to build upon the successful Breathe London program to help more cities address the global air pollution crisis, and now he’s making good on that promise. Breathe Cities also builds on existing efforts led by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Clean Air Fund in the cities of Brussels, Jakarta, London, Milan, Paris, and Warsaw to track air pollution and shape public advocacy and policy measures to reduce pollution, and C40 efforts to increase global commitments to clean air, support mayors in implementing ambitious air quality actions, and create forums for mayors and city staff to scale solutions. Additionally, Breathe Cities builds off of Bloomberg Philanthropies support to the City of Denver and its Mayors Challenge-winning program called Love My Air, which deployed air quality sensors to track hyper-local air quality data at Denver Public Schools, and made that data broadly available, to help residents and city leaders respond to local air quality. With a clear blueprint for achieving clean air in cities, Breathe Cities will support local governments and their communities to bring policies and solutions to life.

This unique partnership builds on Bloomberg Philanthropies’ efforts to support cities around the world to reduce air pollution, fight climate change, and ensure better, longer lives for communities, C40’s work with its global network of nearly 100 mayors united in action to confront the climate crisis, and the Clean Air Fund’s global work with governments, funders, business, and campaigners to create a future where everyone breathes clean air.

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