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Rising Tides, but Missing the Boat

Do Nationally Determined Contributions Neglect Health, Air Quality and Social Vulnerability?

Climate mitigation approaches have historically focused on measures to reduce carbon emissions to avoid their long-term impacts. However, this narrow focus fails to recognize the immediate benefit of certain other climate actions with short-term benefits, such as efforts to improve air quality. This limited focus on only long-term impact inadvertently slows global efforts to improve public health, which is especially urgent amidst current environmental conditions and a global pandemic. Health, climate and air quality stakeholders tend to operate in separate silos, which means that policy and advocacy levers connecting air quality, health and climate have been underutilized. Bridging these priorities, through the inclusion of more comprehensive and accelerated clean air action in every country’s Nationally Determined Contributions(NDCs),has the potential to progress on many sustainable development goals, leading to measurable short-and long-term benefits. Incorporating a targeted focus on the health and air quality benefits of climate mitigation strategies within NDCs to address climate change can foster collaboration across sectors and accelerate design and execution of cost-effective actions for maximum impact.


Vital Strategies evaluated the extent of these missed opportunities to address social vulnerability, air pollution and health through climate action. We reviewed all Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), or country action plans, submitted to UNFCCC to evaluate the extent to which vulnerability, health and air quality have been considered1. We also inventoried specific actions or targets directly focused on air quality or the health sector to assess how countries proposed to measure progress towards these goals. For vulnerability, we evaluated whether NDCs addressed or mentioned women, social or geographic vulnerability, or urban centers. For the inclusion of health, we evaluated whether health was mentioned as an objective, or consequence of emissions and adaptation strategies. For air pollution, we considered whether it was referenced, whether specific health-damaging pollutants were mentioned, and whether air pollution targets were described. We evaluated for each of these three areas whether plans were “comprehensive,” “limited” or whether they were “absent or minimal.”

Snapshot of Results

Regional Results

Country-Specific Results

Summary of Recommendations for Climate Action for Clean Air and Health

  • Elevate the importance of the air quality and health benefits of climate action.
  • Acknowledge that climate change’s greatest impact is on the most socially, geographically, and economically vulnerable populations.
  • Target climate actions to improve public health and health systems.
  • Focus on reducing emissions of the most health damaging pollutants.

1Data Sources

DataSources of DataDates extracted
UN Regional Groups United Nations Department for General Assembly and Conference Management October 17th, 2021 
Country NDC Submissions to UNFCCC  NDC Registry October 1st-October 24th, 2021 
GDP per Capita The World Bank October 29th, 2021 
Average annual PM2.5 concentrations (2019) State of Global Air October 17th, 2021 
Annual air pollution-related illness and death (2019) Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation October 22nd, 2021