Editor's Pick

Our Common Air Commission starts work by calling for global action on air

Our Common Air is a recently established, independent commission, chaired by the former New Zealand PM Helen Clark and the former WHO Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan.

18 globally influential figures, listed at the end of this article, make up the commission.

Our Common Air describe themselves thus: ‘We prioritise the biggest, global challenges on air pollution, and action to address its human causes. In doing so, we recognise the inherent interdependence between the air that we breathe, our health and wellbeing and our climate and environment.

‘We see clean air as a human right, a societal asset, and a route to equitable, sustainable development.’

They also set out a five-point vision to:

  • Create the conditions for faster and more effective action on clean air.
  • Reaffirm the links between addressing climate change, improving health, and advancing sustainable economic development.
  • Make the case that cost-effective opportunities to phase down the world’s dependence on fossil fuels are available today and can and must be accelerated to advance public health, well-being and economic development.
  • Encourage governments to make clean air a fundamental consideration in the planning, development, and implementation of their climate strategies.
  • Push for greater financial support for clean air, from public and private sources.

The commission has launched themselves into the debate with the publication of two briefing papers and a call to action, which makes recommendations based on the content of the two papers.

Clean Air as an Asset: A stronger case needs to be made that cost-effective opportunities to cut polluting emissions are available and must be accelerated at scale to advance public health and well-being.

Investing in Clean Air: Making Financing for Clean Air Explicit, Measurable, Innovative, and Additional

Clean Air: A Call to Action: This Call to Action is focused on making the economic case for clean air, financing the investments needed, setting targets and tracking progress, and sharing solutions.

The Commission addresses the financial barriers to tackling air pollution and urges global financial institutions and particularly the World Bank to invest more heavily in clean air programmes to generate climate, health and economic benefits.

It also calls for adoption of targets in line with WHO guidelines by 2030 or – as starting points and circumstances differ – an ambitious target based on the WHO interim guidelines. 

They also call for a process whereby a global target for PM2.5 reduction is created, in the same way as the net zero by 2050 target.

Helen Clark said: ‘Clean air is not just something that costs money to achieve, but is an asset which can improve health and productivity, and drive new models of economic growth and sustainable development more generally.’

Dr Soumya Swaminathan added: ‘Cleaning our air is about building a shared asset that allows children to run free without wheezing, elders to enjoy active lives and communities and workforces to thrive. Every breath we inhale should come as a force of life, not a risk to it.’

The commissioners are:

Dr Adriana Abdenur: Special Adviser to the President of the Republic of Brazil
Dr Olusoji Adeyi: President, Resilient Health Systems, LLC
Mr Junaid Kamal Ahmad: Vice President, Operations, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency of the World Bank Group
Ms Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr: Mayor, Freetown, Sierra Leone
Ms Jane Burston: CEO and Founder of Clean Air Fund
H.E. María Fernanda Espinosa: Executive Director, GWL Voices for Change and Inclusion
Dr Arunabha Ghosh, Founder-CEO of Council on Energy, Environment and Water
Dr Christa Hasenkopf: Director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC)
Dr Naoko Ishii: Special Presidential Envoy for Global Commons, University of Tokyo, Professor at the Institute for Future Initiatives and Director, Center for Global Commons
Dr Puji Lestari: Professor, Bandung Institute of Technology
Ms Gina McCarthy: Senior Fellow, The Fletcher School
Dr Maria Neira: Director of the Public Health, Environment & Social Determinants of Health Department, World Health Organization
Ms Martina Otto: Head of Secretariat, Climate and Clean Air Coalition
Ms Shirley Rodrigues: Deputy Mayor, Environment and Energy, Greater London Authority
Ambassador Paul Simons: Senior Fellow, Jackson School of Global Affairs, Yale University
Dr Izabella Teixeira: Co-Chair, International Resource Panel


Paul Day
Paul is the editor of Public Sector News.


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