Written by: Kimberly White

It is that time of year again- World Environment Day! Celebrated every year on June 5th, the United Nation’s biggest annual event to promote and advocate for positive environmental action takes the global stage again this year in China.

While the main event will take place in the city of Hangzhou, there will be a large number of events occurring around the globe and online.

The theme of World Environment Day 2019 is #BeatAirPollution. The UN is calling on governments, communities, industry leaders, and individuals to take action to improve air quality in communities and regions around the globe by becoming more sustainable and exploring options in renewable energy, green technologies, and transportation.  

“The country has demonstrated tremendous leadership in tackling air pollution domestically. It can now help spur the world to greater action. Air pollution is a global emergency affecting everyone. China will now be leading the push and stimulating global action to save millions of lives.” said Joyce Msuya, Acting Head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Each year air pollution claims the lives of approximately 7 million people, 600,000 of whom are children.

“Yet, this pandemic receives inadequate attention as these deaths are not as dramatic as those caused by other disasters or epidemics,” said David Boyd, Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council. “Every hour, 800 people are dying, many after years of suffering, from cancer, respiratory illnesses or heart disease directly caused by breathing polluted air.”

Ahead of World Environment Day, the UN Environment released a preliminary report on air pollution in Western Balkan cities. According to the report, air pollution is directly responsible for up to 1 in 5 premature deaths in cities in Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Thermal power plants that use low-quality lignite coal and household heating are the primary sources of emissions in the Western Balkan region.

Thermal power plant in Tuzla.
Credit: UN Environment

More than 5,000km away in Kabul, Afghanistan, vehicle emissions, power generators, and waste burning are causing air pollution that is killing twice as many people every year as war.

Interested in getting involved in the fight against air pollution? World Environment Day has provided several ways to join in #BeatAirPollution.

To bring awareness and encourage change, World Environment Day is calling on everyone to join their Mask Challenge. To participate, simply take a photo or video of yourself wearing a mask and post on social media using the hashtags #WorldEnvironmentDay and #BeatAirPollution. World Environment Day also encourages participants to tag 3 people, organizations, or companies and challenge them to do the same.

Credit: UN Environment/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In addition to the Mask Challenge, individuals are encouraged to take steps to become more sustainable in their lives to reduce air pollution.

Here are some simple, practical tips to help get you started:

  1. Use more public transportation, walk, cycle, or carpool whenever it is possible. Globally, the transportation sector accounts for nearly ¼ of energy-related CO2 emissions that have been linked to 400,000 premature deaths.
  2. Don’t burn trash. Burning waste significantly reduces air quality because it releases harmful dioxins, furans, methane, and black carbon into the world’s atmosphere.
  3. Organize a waste clean-up within your community or get involved organizations that do regular clean-ups like Let’s Do It Kosovo!. Engaging nearly ¼ of Kosovo’s population, Let’s Do It Kosovo has removed more than 30,000 tons of waste from over 500 illegal landfills.
  4. Advocate for legislation to control polluters and ask your local authorities to provide regular air quality data.
  5. Save energy by turning off lights, appliances, and electronics when not in use.
  6. Be a conscious consumer. To do your part to reduce air pollution and help to mitigate the climate crisis, buy only what you need.
  7. Reduce your meat consumption and embrace more plant-based meals. Animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change, emitting approximately 7.1 gigatonnes of CO2 each year.

To learn more about World Environment Day and how you can #BeatAirPollution, please visit World Environment Day.

Header Image Credit: UN Environment/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)