Last February the UNEP launched the largest Air Quality Data Platform at WUF

Globally, 7 million people die each year because of air pollution; 650,000 of these are children. Air pollutants not only affect our health, they also affect ecosystems and food production; air pollution is also linked to climate change. Despite this, most citizens don’t have access to real-time air quality data.

To deal with this necessity, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), together with UN-Habitat and IQAir, have launched the world’s largest air quality data platform, bringing together real-time air pollution data from over 4,000 contributors, including citizens, communities, governments and the private sector to work towards healthier, more sustainable cities.

Launched last February at the Tenth World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, this partnership aims to sustain and grow the world’s foremost air quality databank. Actually, it is reaching over 15 million users and covering more than 7,000 cities worldwide.

The data UN-coordinated platform, will grant governments to take action in order to improve their policies, allowing citizens to make more informed health choices and demand action from their governments. At the same time, it will give businesses the ability to make investment decisions that promote a cleaner, greener environment.

The UNEP platform aggregates, validates and calibrates air quality data that up until now was either restricted to individually-run websites or apps, or not shared publicly. UN-Habitat helps cities to develop plans that can reduce air pollution, including better public transport and waste management interventions.

While Europe, Asia and North America have thousands of monitoring stations providing real-time air quality information on PM2.5 [1] – the fine particulate matter largely responsible for deaths and illnesses – to the public, many developing countries lack infrastructure. For Example, Africa, a continent of 1.3 billion people, has just 50 publicly accessible air quality monitoring stations measuring PM2.5. The launch of this platform will increase that number to 85, with the inclusion of the city authorities of Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Kampala that are actively engaged in deploying local monitoring networks.

The platform addresses the global air quality information gap by bringing together data collected by governments, NGOs, companies and local community groups and individuals. Anyone can apply to contribute real-time air quality data. To ensure data accuracy, IQAir brings its experience in creating and operating its global air quality map to ensure the reliability of published data through its validation and calibration system, which uses advanced machine-learning algorithms.

Thank to this unique collaboration between UN entities and its support to improve access to real-time air quality data, the private sector and local governments are expected to accelerate efforts to change how transport, waste management and other services are managed in cities so that air pollution from these activities is significantly reduced, if not eliminated.

Examples of successful policies to improve air quality exist: In the Chinese capital, Beijing, through a systematic approach based on strong science and coordinated successfully with surrounding cities and regions, the concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the air has fallen by 35% in just five years (2013-2017).

[1] PM2.5 refers to atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, which is about 3% the diameter of a human hair.