Data & Monitoring

Data: a foundation for cleaner air

Credit: Open-Seneca, C40 Cities

C40 cities are working to clean the air that we breathe. As part of their commitments to the C40 Clean Air Cities Declaration, cities are taking bold, innovative steps towards making air pollution a thing of the past, and guaranteeing their populations can breathe healthy, clean air.

Nine out of ten people around the world breathe dirty air — the research is clear on the dangers this poses to health and quality of life. By collecting a diverse range of data, these cities will be able to take evidence-based action and bring about transformational change that makes a real difference to the lives of people everywhere, especially marginalised and vulnerable communities.

These leading cities are expanding their air quality monitoring networks to collect, analyse and communicate data about the air we breathe. Reliable and robust data is an imperative part of protecting the health of our people and our planet, as this helps cities identify sources of pollution, raise awareness, evaluate risk, develop and implement policy, and track progress.

To mark the second United Nations’ International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, we are highlighting some of the ways that C40 cities are working towards meeting the commitments set out in the Clean Air Cities Declaration by championing air quality data and monitoring.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital and the largest city in the country, is working to improve data accessibility and reliability. In June 2021, Addis Ababa launched its Air Quality Management Plan at an event organised with the collaboration of C40, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the World Resource Institute, among other stakeholders. This plan will allow Addis Ababa to expand air quality monitoring, develop informed policy and better protect its residents’ health. The city is working towards publishing an air quality monitoring plan, deploying a reference-grade monitor and making air quality data from sensor networks publicly available by the end of the year.

Quezon City is working to better understand air pollution in the city and protect residents’ health. In June 2021, Mayor Joy Belmonte announced the city’s Air Quality Management Plan Roadmap, which resulted in the deployment of eight monitoring sensors located in pollution “hotspots” across the city. This project was completed in collaboration with C40’s Technical Assistance programme and funded by Clean Air Fund.

“Quezon City continuously works on improving the air quality in the city to protect the health of the citizens. In June 2021, Mayor Joy Belmonte launched the Air Quality Management Plan Roadmap, while eight sensors located in strategic areas will gather and monitor air quality data to help in planning and determining responsive policies and programs to achieve a livable, green, sustainable and climate resilient City. This project was completed in collaboration with C40’s Technical Assistance programme and funded by the Clean Air Fund.” — Mayor of Quezon City, Joy Belmonte.

Taking a slightly different approach, Stockholm’s programme is not only expanding a sensor network, but is also inviting the public to play an integral role in monitoring air quality. Open-seneca, a 2020 winner of C40’s Women4Climate Tech Challenge, was launched in May 2021 after PhD student Lorena Gordillo-Dagallier won funding for the project.

Open-seneca uses 55 low-cost, mobile air quality sensor networks to provide hi-res pollution maps that can help guide policy making. As well as using “citizen scientists”, the network also relies on volunteers to gather air quality data. The scheme provides the public with open access to the results, allowing people to check their own exposure to air pollution.

In a similar vein, Peru’s capital, Lima, is conducting real-time, mobile air quality monitoring that is freely available to residents. Launched in 2020 as the country went into a Covid-19 mandated lockdown, the project placed QHAWAX monitors (small, low-cost modules designed for posts in urban areas) in different parts of its historic centre, to record both air and noise pollution, which are both openly displayed on an interactive map. Lima is currently measuring air quality across 30 locations in the city.

Lima is also looking to understand the quality of the city’s air around its children. This is important for public health, as children are more susceptible than adults to dirty air, which can trigger asthma, issues with neurodevelopment, and chronic diseases later in life. To this end, the Aires Nuevos para la Infancia programme saw sensors first installed in the Pérez Araníbar Childcare Center, with the rest focused on shelters and medical care centres for children.

In Portugal, Lisbon launched an open-access monitoring system earlier this year, which is a first-of-a-kind for the city. Funded by the Sharing Cities Programme, the project will run for two years and help with providing the data needed for the city to develop strategies and policies on climate resilience, noise and air quality.

Lisbon’s monitoring network collects more than air quality data — with 80 stations spaced out across the city, they also gather information on noise, traffic, weather and humidity in real-time. This information is then displayed to the city’s population and third parties on a platform that integrates various data sources and provides analytics.

Meanwhile, London is expanding its open-access monitoring network. To mark the United Kingdom’s Clean Air Day in June this year, Mayor Sadiq Khan announced that an additional 131 sensors to measure air quality would be installed across the city, focused on priority locations such as schools and hospitals. These new monitors — funded by Mayor Khan and Bloomberg Philanthropies, and managed by a team from Imperial College London — bring the Breathe London air quality monitoring network to a total of 322 sensors.

These sensors will help to raise awareness of air pollution, as well as offering access to reliable, localised, real-time data. This initiative also forms part of a series of measures from the mayor to improve air quality, which analysis from Imperial College London’s Environmental Research Group show will increase average life expectancy by six months for children born in 2013.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s most recent Climate Report says that while the window of opportunity is narrowing, we still have time to avoid the worst of the climate crisis. It’s up to us to take action to preserve the health of the planet for both ourselves and future generations. Through taking action to make air pollution a thing of the past, cities can reach the common goal of a more equitable, sustainable and healthier future for all, where collaboration and data-based actions can help address the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

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