– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Tijjani Muhammad Bande, President of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly

8 September 2020



Ladies and gentlemen,

I thank the United Nations Environment Programme and the Republic of Korea for convening us on this inaugural International Day for Clean Air and Blue Skies. I commend the Republic of Korea and the co-sponsors of General Assembly Resolution 74/212 for their leadership and foresight in recognizing this as an important issue linked to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.        

2020 will be remembered as the year that we became accustomed to wearing facemasks, in our attempts to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19. Yet prior to the coronavirus pandemic, many people around the world have worn masks to protect themselves against air pollution. For too long, society has borne the cost of air pollution; from its impact on the economy, tourism, and work productivity to the high healthcare costs. The World Bank estimates that air pollution accounts in $4 trillion in health and welfare costs and for $225 billion in lost income. Low- and middle-income countries are most affected.

In 2015 we pledged to leave no one behind and in this Super Year for Nature, the onus is upon us to address the single greatest environmental risk to human health: air pollution. Air pollution accounts for an estimated 7 million premature deaths each year, approximately one-third of deaths resulting from stroke, chronic respiratory disease and lung cancer as well as 25% of heart-attack related deaths. In addition, ground-level ozone causes asthma and chronic respiratory illnesses.

Particularly in developing countries, air pollution disproportionately affects women, children and the elderly. In low-income populations, these groups are often exposed to high levels of ambient air pollution indoors due to cooking and heating with wood fuel and kerosene.

In 2015 we pledged to leave no one behind and in this Super Year for Nature, the onus is upon us to address the single greatest environmental risk to human health: air pollution.

Tijjani Muhammad Bande

President of the UN General Assembly

COVID-19 has changed the way of life for the people we serve around the world. These dramatic shifts in human activity have in fact led to cleaner air and water: it is projected that global greenhouse gas emissions will decline by 6% by the end of this year. This is a marked reversal of the annual 1.5% increase in emissions over the past decade. Yet even this dramatic shift, the result of restricted economic activity, is not enough to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

However, energy security is within our reach. By limiting our dependence of fossil fuels, we will improve electricity for 840 million people and enable 3 billion people to utilize efficient cooking systems and eradicate the indoor and outdoor air pollution associated with smoke from cooking.

Pollution management can contribute to alleviating poverty, boost shared prosperity, enhance competitiveness through job creation, and ensure better energy efficiency, improved transport and sustainable urban and rural development. The reduction of black carbon emissions will aide our mitigation efforts against climate change, the greatest existential threat facing our world.

The Decade of Action and Delivery to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals has become the decade of recovery.  We must take urgent action to build our resilience in this post-COVID reality. This requires better data systems and cooperation to accelerate action to achieve the targets of the 2030 Agenda aimed at improving the health and livelihoods of everyone, everywhere.

I thank you.