Funding for clean air

Governments funnelled 21% more aid to fossil fuel than air quality projects in 2019 and 2020

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 11 September 2021

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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Development funding for projects tackling air pollution accounts for less than 1% of total aid spending worldwide, according to new research from Clean Air Fund.

This is despite a 153% rise in deaths caused by outdoor air pollution in aid recipient countries between 1990 and 2019.

More money and better collaboration could save countless lives and deliver a wide range of health, environmental and development benefits, the Clean Air Fund said on the UN’s second International Day of Clean Air for blue skies.

Clean air projects

The Clean Air Fund’s annual The State of Global Air Quality Funding report provides the only global snapshot of projects tackling air pollution by donor governments and philanthropic organisations.

It identifies gaps in funding and opportunities for strategic investment and collaboration to deliver clean air for all. 

Overall, governments and philanthropic foundations spent $5.72 billion between 2015 and 2020, a gradual increase over the period.

However, preliminary figures suggest this funding dipped by 10% from 2019 ($1.47 billion) to 2020 ($1.33 billion).

The Clean Air Fund has warned that the overall funding falls far short of what is needed to tackle a problem which causes over 4.2 million deaths every year – more than malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined.

‘Governments are investing more aid in prolonging fossil fuel use than in protecting the nine out of 10 of us breathing harmful and dirty air right now.

‘With public health such a huge global priority and the world waking up to the scale of the climate challenge, this makes no sense at all. The good news is it can quickly change.

‘We urgently need more funding, stronger targets and better collaboration to deliver clean air, for all our sakes.’

JANE BURSTON
Executive director and founder of the Clean Air Fund

Funding fossil fuels

Fossil-fuel combustion accounts for about two-thirds of human exposure to outdoor air pollution – it is also the main driver of climate change.

The research also shows that governments have spent 21% more in development assistance on projects that prolong fossil fuel usage ($1.50 billion in 2019 and 2020) than they did on projects with a primary objective of reducing air pollution (around $1.24 billion). 

The International Energy Agency has called for a dramatic shift away from fossil fuels to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the target agreed by governments in Paris in 2015. The IPCC’s historic climate report sounded a ‘death knell’ for the coal and fossil fuel industry. 

‘There must be no new coal plants built after 2021. OECD countries must phase out existing coal by 2030, with all others following suit by 2040. Countries should also end all new fossil fuel exploration and production, and shift fossil fuel subsidies into renewable energy.’

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES
UN Secretary General

Unequal funding

Funding from philanthropic foundations to clean air projects increased by 17% in 2020 to $44.7 million. However, despite over 4.2 million people dying every year as a result of outdoor air pollution, these figures amount to just 0.1% of philanthropic grants worldwide.

The report also highlights that grant-making to air quality by foundations is largely restricted to climate, environment and energy funders, while the money is mainly directed to North America, Europe, India, China and global projects. 


Funding from official development sources is hugely unequal, with little reaching the hardest hit areas. Africa and Latin America receive just 5% and 10% of aid funding respectively, despite housing some of the world’s most polluted cities and regions. 80% of aid goes via loans to middle-income countries in Asia.


There are significant opportunities for more collaboration and complementary approaches between foundations focused on climate, health and equity, as well as between governments and philanthropic foundations. 


‘Clean air initiatives can be a secret weapon against some of the world’s most pressing challenges but governments are largely ignoring them. We can tackle climate change, save lives and fight inequality at the same time if we invest more and work together. Governments that address this blind spot can rapidly deliver huge benefits for people.’

JANE BURSTON
Executive director and founder of the Clean Air Fund

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