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Colombia and Mali Leading Efforts to Improve Air Quality, New Ranking Finds

Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are leading global efforts to improve air quality as part of national climate plans, according to a ranking that scores Colombia and Mali highest and puts the United Arab Emirates, which will host the Cop28 climate conference next month, among the worst.

Findings of a study by the Global Climate and Health Alliance published on Wednesday show that countries from the global south have the most ambitious strategies to address air pollution and its health impacts, while major polluters – such as the powerful G20 countries – are lacklustre in their commitments.

All but one country in the top 15 spots in the GCHA ranking are from LMICs, including Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ghana, Albania, Bangladesh, Cambodia, El Salvador, Honduras and Sierra Leone.

Jess Beagley, GCHA’s policy lead, said: “It is telling that the countries seeking to take the greatest action on air pollution are often those bearing the brunt of the impacts.”

In contrast, G20 countries score poorly – Canada and China are the best performers among these nations, while Australia, Brazil, the EU, India and the UAE are the lowest scorers. Chile is the only high-income nation in the top 15 countries.

“The global south countries are generally not high per-capita greenhouse-gas emitters,” Beagley said. “As major global polluters, it is crucial for G20 countries to embed air-quality considerations into their [nationally determined contributions], yet no G20 government even scores half-marks – indicative of lack of recognition of the links between climate and air quality, or ambition to take action.”

The GCHA ranking compares 169 countries and the EU on their progress towards integrating air-quality considerations into their national climate action plans. It is aimed at assessing “the extent to which governments’ national climate commitments recognise and contribute to ensuring healthy air for communities around the world”.

Countries were scored on five categories, including health impacts. Bahrain, North Korea, Nauru, Palau, Saudi Arabia and the Solomon Islands are at the bottom of the list of countries, with zero points out of 15.

Colombia “recognises the importance of protecting health (including respiratory health specifically) through air-quality action, and of monitoring these gains”, according to the analysis, while Mali “notes that black carbon contributes to negative impacts on human health” and “that improvements in air quality could avoid 2.4 million premature deaths by 2030”.

The scoring system, for the most part, is about pledges, future plans and targets made by countries, rather than steps that have been taken. Neither does it take into account other wider policies at national level, or plans submitted to the UN.

Air pollution is responsible for up to 7 million deaths annually, contributing to non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, stroke, respiratory conditions and some cancers.

Jeni Miller, GCHA’s executive director, said: “This December, the Cop28 presidency has the opportunity to put air pollution firmly on the agenda and to catalyse national commitments and international funding to improve air quality.

“Cop28’s commitment to be the first ‘health Cop’ will turn out to be an empty promise if the conference does not deliver substantive progress in tackling air pollution as one of the most tangible issues at the nexus of climate and health.”

Source : The Guardian