The Breathe Cities initiative aims to reduce air pollution, slash carbon emissions, and enhance public health
A new cohort of cities is joining the Breathe Cities air quality initiative, which aims to reduce air pollution, slash carbon emissions, and enhance public health. Bloomberg Philanthropies, Clean Air Fund, and C40 Cities made the announcement at the Local Climate Action Summit at the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai. The line-up includes: Accra, Ghana; Brussels, Belgium; Jakarta, Indonesia; Johannesburg, South Africa; Milan, Italy; Nairobi, Kenya; Paris, France; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Sofia, Bulgaria.
The pilot Breathe Cities’ programmes were launched in Warsaw in 2022 and London in 2019. The cities will benefit from funding, technical support, air quality data, community engagement, capacity building, and additional support as part of the Breathe Cities clean air initiative. This $30 million initiative was launched by Michael Bloomberg, UN Secretary-General’s special envoy on climate ambition and solutions and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, and London mayor and C40 co-chair Sadiq Khan.
Breathe Cities builds on existing efforts led by Bloomberg Philanthropies, C40 Cities, and the Clean Air Fund in many of these cities to track air pollution and shape public advocacy and policy measures to reduce pollution. Now, convening under one banner and with dedicated support, the cities announced will join together in what is described as a first-of-its-kind partnership to exchange knowledge and scale local impact. The participating local governments were chosen based on criteria such as geographic diversity, air pollution and emissions intensity, engaged civil society, strong political interest and leadership, scalability potential, and capacity to implement action plans, among other metrics.
Through an evidence-based strategy, combining data, policy, and community engagement, Breathe Cities has the ambitious goal of contributing to reducing air pollution by 30% on an average across participating cities by 2030 compared to 2019 levels. Such a reduction would reportedly prevent an estimated 39,000 premature deaths and around 79,000 new cases of asthma in children each decade, saving $107 billion in avoided hospitalisations and deaths. By 2030, a total of 284 megatonnes of CO2e emissions would be avoided among participating cities.
“One of the most effective ways to tackle climate change and protect public health is through reducing air pollution,” said Bloomberg. “With the right technology, data and policy, cities can lead the way in cleaning the air. Bloomberg Philanthropies is looking forward to working with these cities to help them implement ambitious solutions that will help improve and save lives.”
Breathe Cities was launched in June 2023 as 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. The initiative builds on Khan’s work to tackle air pollution in London. The pilot Breathe London project was designed to support policies like the ultra low emission zone (Ulez). Measuring 1,500 square kilometres and covering the whole capital, it is the largest clean air zone of its kind on earth.
“Toxic air pollution is a dual threat, impacting both the public health of our cities as well as furthering the climate crisis,” said Khan. “As co-chair of C40 Cities, I’ve seen how collaboration can accelerate progress on the challenges we face. By partnering with Bloomberg Philanthropies and Clean Air Fund, we will be able to provide cities with the data and capacity they need to push for stronger and more effective policies that reduce air pollution and deliver cleaner, healthier air to their residents.”
“As a coastal city, Accra and its people are experiencing the harsh impacts of climate change and environmental stressors,” said George Bray, Dean, Greater Accra Metropolitan and Municipal Chief Executives. “It is critical for us to address toxic air pollution to protect not only the health of our residents, but also the health of our coastal ecosystems and assure food security. With the research tools, increased capacity, and shared learning from the Breathe Cities initiative, we’re thrilled to breathe life into the city of Accra.”
Giuseppe Sala, mayor of Milan and C40 vice-chair Europe, added, “Air quality is a key environmental objective for the City of Milan, and support from the Breathe Cities initiative will be instrumental in meeting our climate goals. As a city facing geographical challenges in terms of air stagnation and pollution concentration, the data-driven solutions and technical support will be a catalyst for improving air quality and informing policy.”