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A Plan to Decontaminate Our Cities and Contain the Climate Crisis


In an open letter made public at COP25, more than 100 organizations from Latin America and around the world urged governments to include ambitious and measurable targets for confronting air pollution in their new climate commitments, which must be submitted to the United Nations by March 2020.

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Read it in Spanish // In Portuguese 

Poor air quality is the environmental problem that claims the most lives worldwide.

Each year, more than four million people die from the health damages caused by air pollution. Official data shows that, globally, nine out of ten people breathe polluted air, and that the problem affects more than 80 percent of urban residents. The majority of those affected are in developing countries and the damages most severely impact the most vulnerable sectors of the population: children, pregnant women and the elderly.

At the same time, humanity is seriously threatened by a climatic emergency whose impacts are also suffered with greater force by the most vulnerable segments of the population.

Both problems, the climate crisis and poor air quality, are related to the atmosphere around us and are a matter of human rights. In this sense, there is an efficient way forward on both fronts. It’s an opportunity we must seize, and it has to do with reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs).

Short-lived climate pollutants are atmospheric agents that contribute to the climate crisis with much more intensity than carbon dioxide (CO2) and, as their name indicates, remain in the atmosphere a relatively short time, from days to decades—unlike CO2, which can last millennia in the atmosphere. In addition, these pollutants degrade air quality, affect glacial areas and reduce crop yields. They include black carbon, methane, tropospheric ozone and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

Aiming to mitigate them implies reducing global warming in the short term and, at the same time, advancing in the decontamination of cities.

This opportunity has already been supported by science.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which brings together experts on the subject, stressed in its Special Report on 1.5°C that, in order to confront global warming, we must incorporate into our efforts the mitigation of pollutants other than CO2, specifically black carbon and methane.

Recently, more than 11 thousand scientists from around the world joined the call. In a public declaration recognizing the climate emergency, they identified among the measures necessary to solve it the prompt reduction of short-lived climate pollutants, noting that this would reduce warming by more than 50 percent in the coming decades.

The forthcoming update of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)— containing the climate commitments that governments must submit to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—opens the possibility of betting on the mitigation of these pollutants and contributing effectively to the fight against the climate crisis and poor air quality.

The deadline for governments to submit new and more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions is March 2020.

For all of the reasons stated above, the undersigned organizations consider that the States that are part of the UNFCCC must respect human rights, protect them with the highest standards, and consider them in their climate commitments.

In this sense, we ask that governments:

  • Include ambitious and measurable targets for the reduction of short-lived climate pollutants in the update of their NDCs by March 2020.
  • Detail in their commitments the means of implementation, which must ensure compliance with the targets they set.
  • Frame the fulfillment of commitments in comprehensive policies that recognize the different levels of impact among the population, with special emphasis on the protection of children and other vulnerable groups.
  • Specify the monitoring, reporting and verification procedures that will accompany the implementation of their commitments.
  • Ensure that local governments and companies respect the policies established and adapt their actions to the urgent need to improve air quality.

Download the Letter

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