Bloomberg founder Michael R. Bloomberg and London Mayor Sadiq Khan have announced the launch of a new joint $30m clean air initiative under the banner Breathe Cities.

Announced yesterday on the first day of London Climate Action Week, the new platform is a partnership between Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Clean Air Fund, and the C40 cities group. It has a remit to "break down barriers to action and ensure communities around the world have access to clean air".

The founders said that the group will provide funding, technical support, air quality data, community engagement and capacity building to a group of cities which will be announced later this year. The initial $30m investment is being provided by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The initiative warns that almost no urban area has air quality that meets the guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO), with 41 per cent of cities having air pollution which is seven times higher than the WHO's recommendation, meaning residents are breathing "dangerously polluted air" which can cause a host of health issues such as asthma and respiratory illnesses.

According to the WHO air pollution is associated with seven million premature deaths each year worldwide, and costs the global economy $8.1tr - or the equivalent of 6.1 per cent of global GDP.

"Cities around the world are proving that, with the right technology and support, they can reduce air pollution, protect public health, and fight climate change," said Bloomberg, who also serves as the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions.

"Building on the effective work of London and others, our new Breathe Cities initiative brings together strong partners to help even more local leaders craft ambitious and equitable policies that can save and improve lives."

Sadiq Khan, who serves as chair of C40 Cities alongside his role as London Mayor, said: "Toxic air pollution is a public health crisis in many of our cities - leading to premature death and chronic disease."

Khan also highlighted how it is countries in the Global South - which have contributed the least to climate change throughout history - that are the most severely affected by dangerous air quality and are "bearing the brunt of climate chaos".

"In my own city, to help drive down emissions, we are expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone London-wide, meaning five million more Londoners can breathe cleaner air. I'm proud that this partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, Clean Air Fund, and C40 Cities will enable cities across the globe to drive down emissions and tackle the air pollution crisis head on," he added.

The Breathe Cities initiative is aiming arm cities with resources and support focused on a number of key areas: data and research; engaging local campaigns and grassroot organisations; providing technical assistance and capacity building to help city governments develop clean air strategies; and the sharing of best practices between cities.

"Clean air is a fundamental necessity for everyone to live, grow, and thrive," said Jane Burston, executive director of the Clean Air Fund. "By advancing action at the local level, promoting new data and technologies, and building a robust network to share valuable lessons along with fostering community cohesion, we are collectively empowering cities to improve air quality and address one of the greatest public health problems of our time. Together, we can create a future where everyone can breathe clean air." 

Khan first called for the creation of Breathe Cities in 2021 at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, following the success of the Breathe London campaign. The new initiative also builds on existing work led by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Clean Air Fund in Brussels, Jakarta, London, Milan, Paris, and Warsaw, which have supported the roll out of a raft of air pollution policies.

The news came on the same day as the London Sustainable Development Commission (LSDC) launched its latest report, titled London's Just Transition: The journey to an equitable, net-zero city.

The report argues that climate change is a social justice issue, and that plans to tackle it must be fair for all Londoners and seek to address the city's "stark environmental inequalities".

As an example, it cited how while 13.2 per cent of London households - or 471,000 homes - are in fuel poverty, Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) households are 35 per cent more likely to be fuel poor than white households.

While it acknowledges that the Mayor of London and London councils are already taking action to tackle environmental inequalities, including investing in making people's homes more energy efficient, it warns "there is far more to do".

Recommendations in the report include calls for London's political leaders to set out a clear vision of a greener, fairer city for everyone; build public trust by listening to communities when planning environmental actions which affects them; and design environmental policies which share benefits and costs fairly.

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