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Six Cities Successfully Reduce Toxic Air Pollution by As Much As 50%

Replicable solutions from six cities highlighted in new publication for COP28 demonstrate success of health sector engagement in climate crisis action 

Dec. 3, 2023 (Dubai): More than 90% of the people in the world breathe unhealthy air, contributing to illnesses including asthma, lung and heart disease, and stunted growth in children. The health sector can accelerate action on both air pollution and climate, while protecting people from immediate health impacts of air pollution. Today at the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), Vital Strategies, with support from Clean Air Fund, released case studies showcasing high-impact, evidence-based success stories from six cities to spur governments around the world to replicate clean air solutions that will yield benefits for the climate and for human health. For example, New York City and Beijing have each achieved about a 50% drop in their pollutant levels since introducing detailed clean air interventions.

Now available at, the case studies feature successes from Accra (Ghana), Barranquilla (Colombia), Beijing (China), Jakarta (Indonesia), Kampala (Uganda), and New York City (USA). Each city example showcases how engagement with public health organizations and health practitioners can accelerate solutions that promote clean air, climate and health simultaneously.

Sumi Mehta, Vice President of Environmental and Climate Health at Vital Strategies, said: “Future generations stand to suffer from our failure to act on the climate to protect human health now. The six featured cities show that real progress toward clean air can be made in cities around the world—they just need to start. We urge policymakers, civil society and health care workers to adopt policies and measures to improve health for everyone, everywhere. Everybody has the right to breathe clean air.”

Nina Renshaw, Head of Health at the Clean Air Fund, said: “COP28 will put health at the heart of climate action for the first time. Health Day on Dec 3 will make it clear to governments that climate action saves lives, so it can’t be postponed. These excellent case studies from six very different cities show how to work with health experts to maximize the benefits of clean air. Every city can take inspiration from this to make a very tangible difference to people’s lives.”

Key learnings:

  • With technological advancement and innovation, air quality monitoring is no longer expensive and cumbersome—it can be fit to purpose, and carefully designed to address issues specific to a city. Kampala relies on an extensive network of low-cost sensors to provide real-time data access that is used to guide decision-making and monitor the effectiveness of mitigation measures. Open access to satellite technology has also made it possible to estimate pollution levels even where there are no monitors available.
  • Integrated data from air quality monitors and routinely collected health data have many applications and uses. For example, when New York first set up its air quality monitoring program in 2008, the data showed poor wintertime air quality in areas where buildings were using sulfur-heavy oil for heating. The health department estimated the mortality and morbidity costs of this pollution source and used the data to convince the mayor’s office to support a rapid phaseout, resulting in the Clean Heating Law of 2010 that mandated the use of cleaner fuels for residential buildings by 2015. Continued monitoring revealed that air quality improved significantly after the law, resulting in the prevention of an estimated 290 premature deaths, 180 hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and 550 emergency department visits for asthma each year.
  • Impact assessments can be used to reveal powerful insights on the relative health and climate co-benefits of actions under consideration. For example, in Jakarta, the government used potential health benefits to gauge what actions they could implement to reduce air pollution in the city. It was determined that vehicular emissions testing to ensure compliance with emissions standards would yield the highest benefits, particularly as vehicle emissions are the leading source of pollution in Jakarta. Similarly in Accra, they found that shifting to clean fuels such as LPG, biogas and electricity could avert as many as 1,900 deaths in the city every year.
  • A multi-stakeholder system, including strong legislation, is needed to achieve air quality goals: Health authorities, environmental agencies, transport, energy, manufacturing and enforcement should all be engaged. Accra began its clean air efforts by studying the sources of pollution and then mapping and bringing together all the stakeholders that affect the city’s air quality. The leading polluting sectors were household energy, transport, solid waste and land use. Accra then did sector-wise assessments to quantify health gains under alternative policy scenarios, which have gone on to inform city planning.
  • Cities can offer financial incentives and education to encourage citizens to choose alternatives that can benefit their health. In Beijing, the government offered citizens subsidies to switch from using coal to natural gas for heating. This was paired with education on the negative health impacts of residential coal combustion.

City case studies were compiled in collaboration with Accra Metropolitan Authority, Barranquilla City Government, Energy Foundation China, DKI Jakarta Provincial Government, Kampala Capital City Authority, and New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Access the case studies:

About Clean Air Fund

Clean Air Fund is a global philanthropic organisation working with governments, funders, businesses and campaigners to create a future where everyone breathes clean air. It funds and partners with organisations that promote air quality data, builds public demand for clean air and drives policy change.


About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies believes every person should be protected by an equitable and effective public health system. We work with governments, communities, and organizations around the world to reimagine public health so that health is supported in all the places we live, work and play. The result is millions of people living longer, healthier lives.

Visit: or follow @VitalStrat on Twitter

For more information, contact:

Shashwat Raj, Senior Communication Manager, Vital Strategies