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Clean Air

This week, I had the privilege of delivering a keynote speech at a remarkable joint event organized by UN-Habitat and FIABCI in New York City. This event coincided with New York's UN Week, creating an opportune moment to discuss an important sustainable development goal. In my address, I focused on SDG 11.6, which calls for reducing the adverse environmental impact of cities, with a particular emphasis on air quality. Recent events, such as the wildfires in Canada that affected New York City, serve as stark reminders of the interconnectedness of our environment. Air pollution travels across borders uninhibited - we have one sky that we share, and each individual has a shared responsibility to all citizens of the globe to keep the air clean.

99% of the world's urban population breathe polluted air.

The building sector is responsible for a staggering 39% of global CO2 emissions. As an industry, we bear a collective responsibility to address this pressing issue. The complexity and cost of compliance dominate discussions around Local Law 97 in New York City has been the focus. It is crucial to shift the narrative towards the greater good and focus on the positive impact it can have on air quality, our health, and well-being. The benefits of cleaner air are immense - ask Chat-GPT and it will rattle out a plethora of stats relating to respiratory and cardiovascular health, and environmental costs.

In addition, cleaner air improves cognitive ability, with studies indicating an 11% increase in productivity in clean-air environments.

Innovative solutions to clear the air in cities include:

  • Madrid - is taking proactive steps by building a wind garden, which acts as a cooling mechanism for the city and cleans the air with plants.

  • Ko-Bogen - in Germany exemplifies sustainable design by incorporating 8km of trees on its facade, which not only purifies the air, but also provides acoustic insulation, shading, and cooling benefits.

  • Reduce car use - car exhaust fumes are immense polluters. Adoption of concepts such as the 15-minute (walkable) city, congestion pricing, and improved public transport, while not innovative, are effective.

Improving air quality in cities is an essential step toward achieving sustainable development. The alarming statistics regarding air pollution and CO2 emissions demand immediate action. By adopting innovative solutions and reshaping the conversation around air quality, we can create healthier and more productive urban environments. It's up to all of us to build a future where cities thrive while preserving our planet's precious resources.


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