Breathing Life into Our Skies: Uniting for Clean Air on the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies

"Together for Clean Air"

In anticipation of the upcoming International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies on September 7th, the world is gearing up to unite under the theme "Together for Clean Air." This year's focus revolves around forging robust partnerships, increased investments, and a collective sense of responsibility to combat the pervasive issue of air pollution. The clarion call emphasizes the cross-border nature of air pollution, urging all stakeholders to safeguard the planet's atmosphere and ensure breathable air for all. By transcending borders, sectors, and divisions, the world aims to slash air pollution, channel funds towards air quality solutions, and reap the multifaceted rewards of cleaner air.

The Dual Challenge: Health and Climate Impact

The dire consequences of air pollution unfold in two pivotal dimensions: health and climate. Microscopic airborne particles, imperceptible to the human eye, infiltrate our lungs and bodies, contributing to a staggering one-third of deaths due to ailments like stroke, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases. Similarly, pollutants culminate in heart attacks and asthma, with ground-level ozone, a byproduct of pollutant interaction in sunlight, exacerbating respiratory woes.

The broader ecological panorama is no less grim. Short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), compounds tightly linked with both health risks and immediate planetary warming, demand attention. Persisting in the atmosphere for a few days to decades, SLCPs impact health, precipitate warming, and spell danger for regions exposed to their effects.

Global Push to Enhance Air Quality

Air pollution emerges as the paramount environmental hazard, a leading cause of avoidable deaths and diseases worldwide. Indoor and outdoor air pollution combined accounted for a staggering 6.5 million premature deaths globally in 2016. Particularly in developing nations, the burden of air pollution disproportionately befalls women, children, and elderly individuals, particularly those in low-income strata exposed to both ambient and indoor air pollution from wood and kerosene-based cooking and heating.

The global reach of air pollution necessitates aggressive intervention. Without substantial action, premature deaths from ambient air pollution could surge by over 50% by 2050. This burden not only exacts a human toll but wreaks economic havoc, eroding productivity, elevating healthcare costs, and curbing tourism.

Clean Air: A Precursor to Sustainable Development

Clear skies are intrinsically linked to human well-being. Air pollution's disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups spurred UN Member States to commit to slashing deaths and illnesses due to hazardous chemicals and pollution by 2030. Clean air stands pivotal to sustainable development, reflecting in economic growth, environmental protection, and the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals.

United for curbing air pollution

A Novel Approach: Curbing Contrail Impact

In a pioneering effort to mitigate aviation's climate impact, a consortium of pilots from American Airlines embarked on a groundbreaking endeavor. Over six months, they conducted 70 test flights guided by Google's AI-powered predictions and Breakthrough Energy's contrail models. This innovative approach enabled pilots to sidestep altitudes conducive to contrail formation, slashing contrail presence by an impressive 54%.

While this strategy showcased the potential of curbing contrail impact, it comes with its complexities. These adjusted flights consumed an additional 2% of fuel, yet studies indicate that a fraction of flights could be strategically tweaked to evade the majority of contrail-related warming. This revelation points to a potential total fuel increase of as low as 0.3% across an airline's flights. This promising prospect suggests that scaling contrail avoidance might cost-effectively mitigate carbon emissions.


Charting the Path Forward

As the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies draws near, the global community stands poised to redouble efforts towards clean air and climate mitigation. The synergistic approach of curbing contrail impact through AI-guided predictions presents a beacon of hope in aviation's climate journey. This emerging strategy, with a potential cost of $5-25 per ton of CO2e, could revolutionize flight paths and contribute to a sustainable aviation industry.

The road ahead envisions automated contrail avoidance, strategic targeting of high-impact contrails, and enhanced satellite-based verification. Collaborative endeavors across the aviation sector will harness the power of AI to make contrail avoidance a tangible reality in the years to come. As the world gathers to commemorate the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, the trajectory towards cleaner skies and a healthier planet remains resolute.

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