"The air we breathe in all parts of the world, whether in a big city or in a small village, is polluted," United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement and asked people to act so "we can breathe more easily." He added that "from pressuring politicians and businesses to changing our own habits, we can reduce pollution and beat climate change."
According to current estimations, nine out of ten people worldwide are exposed to air pollutants that exceed World Health Organization air quality guidelines.
Polluted air kills some millions each year, causes long term health problems and reduces children’s cognitive development. From an economic perspective, air pollution costs societies more than US$5 trillion every year, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Bogota, Colombia, Lalitpur in Nepal, Bogor, Indonesia and Montevideo, Uruguay are among dozens of cities in over 63 countries where citizens are demonstrating in favor of better environmental regulations this Wednesday.
In China, where about seven million people die every year due to air pollution, Hangzhou was chosen as the center of the campaign since the United Nations sees the city as a "good example" to follow by the other major global polluters because it has reduced its air pollution dramatically in recent years.
"China's success in reducing air pollution in less than a generation is incredible," Joyce Msuya, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) deputy executive director said and explained air pollution-related deaths are mostly a consequence of tiny chemical particles coming from the burning of fossil fuels.
In the last 5 years however, Chinese cities, such as Beijing, have reduced their levels of tiny particles by 35 percent through controlling vehicle CO2 emissions, using electric public transportation and limiting the use of coal boilers.
"China's advances in reducing pollution shows the world that it is possible to fight with strict policies and accelerating the energy change towards renewable energies," said Liu Qian, Greenpeace activist, adding that "since air is borderless, we urgently need all governments and industries to work together to accelerate a more sustainable future."
To celebrate this year's World Environment Day, citizens displayed countless diverse and creative actions. For instance, Kenya hosted a cycling race and communities organized running clean-up campaigns in Ethiopia.
In the United Kingdom, former Arsenal soccer player Mathieu Flamini joined a protest aimed at protecting the ocean from plastic pollution held in Westminster.
Air pollution, the UNEP recalled, is also an accelerator of the climate crisis since it contributes to the melting of glaciers. The disappearance of these natural ecosystems could be disastrous, for millions depend on them.
From the glaciers and the perennial snows of the Himalayas, about 1,800 million people get their drinking water, according to Greenpeace.
Every year the U.N. celebrates the World Environment Day on June 5 to remember the day when the first conference on the human environment began in Stockholm in 1972.