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New real-time air pollution exposure calculator boosts quality of air quality monitoring

September 7, 2021 – NAIROBI – The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), in collaboration with IQAir, a Swiss air quality technology company, has developed the first real-time air pollution exposure calculator, which builds on the world’s largest air quality data platform, launched by UNEP and IQAir in February 2020.

The calculator, developed with support from the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UNSDSN) and the Frontier Technologies Hub, combines global governmental, crowd-sourced and satellite-derived air quality data with population data and applies artificial intelligence to calculate – every one hour – country population exposure to air pollution, specifically to the fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that is largely responsible for deaths and illnesses linked to air pollution.

The real-time air pollution exposure calculation is displayed as part of the global interactive air quality map on UNEP’s World Environmental Situation Room in an intuitive live data box that specifies the exposure level per age group across the world’s population. This information is designed to prioritize efforts to improve air quality monitoring and help catalyze actions to improve air quality in urban spaces. UNEP plans to enhance the calculator to support cities around the world to improve their air quality.

More than 80 percent of people living in urban areas are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO guideline limits, with low- and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures, both indoors and outdoors. Air pollution not only affects public health, it also affects ecosystems and food production, and is also linked to climate change. Despite this, most citizens don’t have access to real-time air quality data and many urban spaces around the world lack sufficient air monitoring systems. Consequently, citizens are often unaware of the harmful levels of air they breathe.

“With nine in ten people on earth breathing unclean air, this real-time air pollution exposure calculator is an important step in our efforts to utilize technology to support cleaner air and, in turn, improved health and a healthier environment,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “The imperative to act is urgent - we must continue to increase international cooperation on air quality data and research, develop new technologies and, crucially, work to reduce air pollution, especially for those most at risk.”

“We recognize that some of the world’s most vulnerable communities are disproportionately affected by poor air quality,” said IQAir CEO Frank Hammes.

“Through our partnership with UNEP and the support of UNSDSN and UKAid, we are able to leverage real-time air quality monitoring data, machine learning and data visualization to help identify those that are most affected by global air pollution. The real-time visibility of the impact of air pollution on mankind, combined with the outreach and support that the UNEP offers, can help governments and communities around the world take actions that lead to cleaner, healthier air.”

By rapidly and dynamically assessing real-time exposure to poor air quality, this unique collaboration between the UN, the private sector, academia, non-governmental and local governments could help 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, and ultimately eliminated.

The launch of the real-time air pollution exposure calculator comes as the world celebrates the 2nd International Day for Clean Air and blue skies on September 7, 2021, this year under the theme ‘Healthy Air, Healthy Planet’. The Day calls for increased international cooperation at the global, regional and sub-regional levels. It provides a platform for strengthening global solidarity as well as political momentum for action against air pollution and climate change, including the increased collection of air quality data, carrying out joint research, developing new technologies and sharing best practices.

NOTES TO EDITORS

About the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)
UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

About UNSDSN
The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) mobilizes scientific and technical expertise from academia, civil society, and the private sector to support practical problem solving for sustainable development at local, national, and global scales. The SDSN has been operating since 2012 under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General. The SDSN is building national and regional networks of knowledge institutions, solution-focused thematic networks, and the SDG Academy, an online university for sustainable development.

About IQAir
IQAir is a Swiss-based air quality technology company that empowers individuals, organizations, and communities to breathe cleaner air through information, collaboration and technology solutions. IQAir offers affordable air quality monitoring and data solutions to governments, NGOs, educational institutions and corporate users in over 100 countries.

About IMC Worldwide Limited
IMC Worldwide Ltd has the mandate to empower the poor and disadvantaged in low and middle-income countries. IMC Worldwide is implementing the Frontier Technology Programme which works at the intersection of technology innovation and international development to implement pilot projects using lean and agile methodologies to solve development challenges. The programme is funded by UKAid.

For more information, please contact:
Keisha Rukikaire, Head of News & Media, UN Environment Programme
Tiffany Allegretti, Public Relations Manager, IQAir: +1 562-903-7600 ext. 1129

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